England Introduces Levy For Plastic Bags

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Shoppers in England now face a 5 pence charge for plastic carrier bags in a UK Government initiative to cut litter and protect the environment.

The introduction of the levy from 5 October means England catches up with initiatives already in place in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Welsh scheme saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79 per cent in its first three years.

Under the new legislation, large retailers with more than 250 employees will need to charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. Smaller businesses may also charge on a voluntary basis.

The new 5 pence charge applies to bags that are: new and unused, plastic, with handles, and 70 microns thick or less.

There are exceptions for the charge, including plastic bags for uncooked fish,  uncooked meat and poultry, and prescription medicines.

Retailers can also make returnable multiple reuse bags available, but they must meet the following specifications: sold for 5 pence or more, suitable for reuse
and replaced free of charge if returned to the store.

Retailers must keep records of the bags used and charged for, and send documentation to the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs at the end of each annual reporting period.

Once businesses have deducted “reasonable costs”, the government expects them to donate all proceeds to good causes.

In 2014, 7.64 billion single use plastic bags were given out by major supermarkets in England – the equivalent of about 140 bags per person or 61,000 tonnes.

By introducing the new legislation, the government hopes to encourage use of “bags for life”, prevent litter and improve environmental outcomes.

Environment Minister Rory Stewart said: “The more bags we take from the shops, 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.

“Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country.”

As a result of introducing the levy, over the next 10 years the UK Government expects to see up to £730 million raised for good causes, and achieve £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs and carbon savings of £13 million.

Environmental campaigners, including Friends of the Earth, are calling for the legislation to be applied to smaller retailers to further reduce the impact of plastic bags on the environment.

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