Plastic bag levy drops supermarket use by 97%

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has released new figures showing that its single-use bag fee has reduced usage by 97% at major UK retailers.

The 5p charge for single-use plastic bags was introduced in supermarkets in 2015, increased to 10p and extended to all businesses last year. This change was originally announced in September 2020, as part of the government’s “war on plastic waste”.

According to Defra, the 10p levy reduced the use of plastic bags by 20%, from 627 million in 2019/20 to 496 million in 2021/22. The department’s statistics also suggest the charge has led the average person to buy about three single-use carrier bags a year from major retailers, up from 140 per person in 2014.

Retailers made more than £200million in charitable donations as a result of the accusation, Defra research reveals. In 2021/22, retailers have donated £10million to ‘good causes across education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity or volunteering, or to causes chosen by customers and staff.

Defra also found that the number of single-use carrier bags reported by major UK retailers was 197 million in 2021/22, down from 271 million in 2019/20, a reduction of 27%. In 2014, before the introduction of the fee, 7.6 billion was used.

In 2019, this accusation led to a 90% drop in sales of single-use plastic bags. Defra said the biggest cuts came from Tesco and Morrisons, cutting their sales of plastic bags by 63% and 64% respectively.

Steve Double, Minister for the Environment, said: “Our plastic bag levy has ended the sale of billions of single-use bags, protecting our landscapes and ensuring millions of pounds are redistributed to worthwhile causes. .

“Much more needs to be done to tackle the problem of plastic waste. That’s why we’re building on our single-use plastic bans and introducing the bottle deposit system to tackle littering and increase recycling rates.

Adam Herriot, Sector Specialist, Resource Management, WRAP added: “Flexible plastics remain one of the most common plastics in our bins, but just like pots, jars and trays, we are now at a point where the tide turns on flexible plastics.

“Today, nearly 5,000 stores nationwide have in-store pickups where people can drop off their unusable bags once they’re at the end of their life.

“So not only do we have fewer single-use shopping bags to worry about, but we have a handy place to put them when we shop to make sure they get recycled.”

Bryce K. Locke