Plastic bag charge: Why was it introduced and what impact has it had?

Shoppers seem to have gone off plastic bags, with the latest data showing that sales at the seven biggest supermarkets in England have dropped by 90% since 2015.

Here are some key questions answered on the 5p carrier bag levy.

When was the plastic bag charge introduced?

The plastic bag fee came into effect in England on October 5 2015.

The Government introduced a law requiring all supermarkets and large stores to charge a minimum of 5p for every single-use plastic carrier bag they handed out.

A consultation was launched last year on doubling the charge to 10p.

Why was it brought in?

The carrier bag levy was introduced in a bid to reduce their use and the litter they cause.

In 2014, the number of single-use carrier bags handed out by supermarkets in England rose for the fifth year in a row to 7.6 billion, the equivalent of 140 bags per person.

Campaigners warn they take 1,000 years to break down, are a highly visible type of litter, use resources and can be extremely damaging to marine wildlife.

Which shops are currently covered by the charge?

In England, the charge currently applies to retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees, determined by the size of the company rather than the individual branch.

Smaller businesses have been allowed to charge if they wish, while the Association of Convenience Stores has encouraged members to introduce their own voluntary charging schemes wherever practical.

What impact has the fee had?

Sales of disposable carrier bags issued by the seven biggest supermarket chains have declined by 90% since 2015, official figures show.

The country’s main retailers sold 490 million fewer bags in 2018/19 than in 2017/18 – a drop of almost 50%.

What happens to the money raised by the scheme?

The plastic bag charge is not a tax, and does not go to the Government.

Retailers are given the choice what to do with the proceeds, but they are expected to give it to good causes.

Between 2017 and 2018, almost two-thirds of retailers reported giving more than £51 million to good causes – amounting to 3.8 pence for every single-use bag sold by them.

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