The 5p carrier bag charge - where your money goes

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Since October 2015, when the 5p charge for carrier bags was introduced, we've got better at remembering to bring shopping bags with us. However, occasionally we all make mistakes - leaving us facing an irritating 5p charge. Fortunately, while we're busy kicking ourselves for forgetting, we're also raising money for charity.

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We all have those days when we enter the supermarket with a single bag and the intention of picking up a handful of things - and then leave with a trolley-full, or we walk miles from the car park to the out of town supermarket, before realising our bags are still nestled safely in the car boot. As we count out the extra 5p and seethe at our own stupidity, there's a good chance that we're irritated by stores making money from our forgetfulness.

What many of us forget at these moments is that rather than adding to the fortunes of these big retailers, the government expects them to go some good with the cash. It's not mandatory, but many of the big retailers have already given away a fortune as a result of our forgetfulness.

Where the 5p goes

In the first six months of the scheme at least £29.2 million was donated to good causes.

In the first year, Iceland, Asda, Morrisons and Waitrose joined together to give the money to fund to a new Alzheimer's centre at University College London. Now, they tend to focus their charitable giving on local or environmental causes.

We reveal where the money goes when you buy a bag from ten major retailers.

It operates a charity scheme for local good causes. The Bags of Help scheme invites local groups to apply for money, then asks shoppers to choose from three possible good causes in any month. The money is allocated to each of the three depending on how popular they are - ranging from £1,000 to £4,000. More than 3,500 community groups have been awarded more than £27 million. A fraction of a penny from each 5p goes to Groundwork, which runs the scheme, and almost half a penny goes to communicating to shoppers not to forget their bags.

The supermarket runs a different kind of scheme, because the 5p and 10p bags it sells are bags for life - so they are replaced automatically when they are damaged, and aren't actually part of the government scheme. The exception to this is online deliveries, which can be delivered in single-use bags. They do actually give money to local good causes from the sale of the bags - but they make less profit from the bags - so donate less than the other supermarkets.

Asda runs various charity schemes across England, Scotland and Wales, targeting local charities and community schemes. It doesn't go into much detail, but says: "All the proceeds, less the VAT from these charges will be donated to charities and good causes across the UK."

Morrisons gives any money it makes from single-use carrier bags to good causes - with the Morrisons Foundation being the main beneficiary. This awards grants for charity projects, and match-funds the money that Morrisons colleagues raise for charity. Any local charity can apply for a grant.

Every penny raised from the sale of carrier bags at Waitrose branches in England goes into a community and environmental fund - with no deduction for costs. It means that Waitrose is in effect donating to charity with every bag purchased. It has announced that £1 million will be spent on cleaning up litter - £500,000 through the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), and £500,000 through organisations devoted to clearing up open spaces.

The supermarket donates money from the sale of its carrier bags to an educational partnership with the RSPB. In the first year, it donated £775,000, and it hopes to give a total of £2 million by 2018.

Greggs made £130,000 from the scheme in the past year, and donated the money to the Greggs Foundation - which makes grants to local environmental causes, as well as Keep Britain Tidy and Surfers Against Sewage.

The store passes on the full 5p to Children in Need - plus 5p from each reusable carrier bag sold. Because it makes up the VAT itself, it means B&Q is donating the VAT on each carrier bag to the charity.

The retailer has selected a number of charities to benefit each year - and raises more than £1 million for them through the sale of the bags. It has not publicised this year's charities, but last year raised money for a number of hospices, the Woodland Trust and The Aspinall Foundation.

In Wales, Scotland and England the 5p (minus VAT) is split, with half going to local charities and community causes chosen by individual stores, and the other half going to a selection of national charities including MacMillan Cancer Support, Breast Cancer Now and the Marine Conservation Society.

Of course, when we remember our bags we deserve a pat on the back too, because the number of single use carrier bags issued in the UK has plummeted. In 2014, 7.6 billion of these carrier bags were given away. In the first six months of the scheme's operation just 1.1 billion carrier bags were sold. This is, of course, still an awful lot of plastic bags to be dumped into the environment, but we can at least be confident that by bringing our own bags we're not adding any more to the plastic mountain of waste in the UK.

Save money on shopping: ten great tricks
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Save money on shopping: ten great tricks

The more work you are prepared to put in, the more you stand to save. If you put your shopping list into, you can identify where each individual items is cheapest, and can technically buy every single item at its lowest possible price.

If that sounds a bit too much like hard work, a reasonable compromise is to shop at two supermarkets: once at the weekend and once mid-week. You can buy each item at the cheapest of the two shops, and save money without devoting hours to shopping.

There are several deal-sharing sites, including and Most of them have a ‘freebies’ section, where you can get items completely free, and all have a section where they post fantastic deals that are well worth taking advantage of.

They will often point the way to coupons for brilliant discounts too.

The more time you have spare to spend looking for these, the more you can save.

It’s worth following your favourite brands on Facebook or Twitter. It’s also important to pick up in-house magazines, try your free local paper, and check any letters from supermarket loyalty schemes for your vouchers. If you have a Nectar card, visit the website before you shop, so you can upload the latest deals to your card.

While you’re in-store, keep your eyes peeled for promotions on packets, and on receipts. Often the deal-hunting websites will offer a short cut to many of these, but if you have the opportunity to do some legwork, you will find plenty of others.

Compare the price of your branded goods (after you use the coupon) with the cheapest supermarket alternative. If the discount makes it the cheapest option, then feel free to use it immediately.

However, if it doesn’t bring the price down below the own brand price, then don't throw it away. Hang onto the coupon, and check every few days to see if there’s an offer running on the brand at any time before the coupon expires. A deal plus a coupon is often the cheapest option.

Prices change all the time, but it pays to have a shopping list annotated with the usual price - or an old receipt - on hand when you are shopping. When something is on sale, compare it to the usual selling price from your list, to decide if it’s really as good value as it purports to be.
The frugal experts have decent storage areas at home, so if there’s a very special deal on washing powder or toilet paper, tins or toiletries, they can stock up for a few months at a knock-down price. It’s not generally worth doing on fresh produce, or packets with a short shelf life though, because throwing something away that’s out of date will undo all of your good work.
There can be some incredible bargains in the ‘yellow sticker’ sections of the supermarket. Most stores will have a spot for fruit and vegetable reductions, somewhere for chilled food price cuts, one for bakery products, and a final one for those with a longer shelf life that may be a bit battered, or separated from the outer packaging. Check them all for a possible discount.

The ’yellow sticker’ items will usually be reduced at least twice a day: once in the afternoon and once later in the evening. If you can wait to shop at around 7.30pm or 8pm you can get astonishing discounts.

If you want to time your shop exactly, then your best bet is to ask in store when they do their final reductions - don't be shy!

Get to know the rules around freezing ‘yellow sticker’ items, so you can buy when they are cheapest and use over the following weeks and months.

Don't assume something is perishable without checking. Everything from cheese to beansprouts is fine to freeze as long as you treat them correctly (beansprouts need blanching, chilling in ice water, and freezing immediately).

It’s never worth buying something just because it’s cheap: you also have to be able to factor it into your life. If you can't immediately think how you would use that over-ripe avocado, a pack of cut-price tongue or kippers, then don't buy them.

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