We're using more carrier bags - despite having dozens at home

Planned 5p charge expected to cut use

Updated: 
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The number of plastic bags we're taking home from the shops has gone up, for the fifth year in a row.

We're using - and then binning - 8.5 billion single-use carrier bags a year, up 200 million on 2013.

Meanwhile in Scotland and Wales, where there's now a 5p charge for bags, the number has declined. In Wales, indeed, it's dropped 79% in the three years since the charge was brought in.

Part of the problem is that retailers have reduced the strength of their bags over the last few years - meaning customers use more of them, especially when using self-service tills.

According to waste advisory body WRAP, indeed, the total weight of the plastic bags we use is actually falling.

But research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) shows that the average household already has 40 plastic bags stashed away around the home.

"We're all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us next time we go to the shops," says resource minister Rory Stewart.

"But the more bags we take, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside, and damaging our wildlife and marine environments."

This October, a 5p charge will be introduced in England too. All retailers with 250 or more full-time-equivalent employees will have to charge at least 5p for bags, both for shopping in stores and for deliveries. However, there's been criticism of the fact that smaller retailers will still be allowed to give them away for free.

"Countries with the 5p charge have seen a dramatic fall in the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and we can expect a significant reduction in England, possibly by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street," Stewart promises.

"The charge will also boost our growing economy by delivering savings of £60 million in litter clean-up costs and £13 million in carbon savings."

Some of the profits will go to good causes, which Defra says could benefit by as much as £730 million over the next ten years.

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