Single-use plastic bag charge doubles from 5p to 10p, but is it enough?

·3-min read
Plastic rubbish piled up in Turkey (Caner Ozkan/Greenpeace/PA)
Plastic rubbish piled up in Turkey (Caner Ozkan/Greenpeace/PA)

The 5p charge for a single-use plastic bag doubled on Friday and now applies to all businesses in England, though campaigners are urging for an outright ban.

Previously, only companies with 250 employees or more had to apply the fee. From May 21, all corners shops and supermarkets must apply the charge which has been raised to 10p.

Government reports on the success of the 5p plastic bag charge introduced in 2015 claim sales of plastic bags have dropped by 95 per cent across supermarkets.

The average person in England now buys just four single-use bags a year, compared with around 140 in 2014.

However, an environmental non-profit claims that the figures are misleading and that the new measure does not go far enough to combat plastic bag pollution.

Planet Patrol claims the figures only account for sales of single-use carrier bags and make no mention of the huge increase in ‘Bag for Life’ sales which increased almost tenfold in a single year.

“One major supermarket reported an increase in Bag for Life sales from 3.5 million in 2018 to 34 million in 2019,” a spokesperson said.

The average person in England bought around 140 single-use bags in 2014PA Wire
The average person in England bought around 140 single-use bags in 2014PA Wire

“Another recorded a 2,740 per cent increase in ‘bag for life’ sales over the 4-year levy period.”

It comes after research by Greenpeace showed plastic bags and packaging from UK supermarkets piled up in fields and clogging waterways in Turkey.

Investigators revealed how UK plastic waste is being dumped or illegally burned in Turkey where fields are carpeted in plastic ‘recycling.’

The Big Bag Ban

Campaigners are calling for the government to put into place a complete ban on single-use plastic bags under the The Big Bag Ban movement.

An open letter has been sent to Environment Secretary George Eustice signed by Planet Patrol founder Lizzie Carr.

It carries cross-party parliamentary support and signatures from a raft of public figures, academics and activists including actress Thandiwe Newton, TV presenter Julia Bradbury and celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.

Other Calls to Action

Meanwhile The Waste and Resources Action Programme highlighted reports of increased purchasing of so-called ‘bags for life’ likely being used just once.

“To truly benefit the planet, bags, regardless of what they are made from, need to be reused many times over,” strategic engagement manager Helen Bird said.

“Once they are worn out they can be recycled, or in the case of ‘bags for life’, replaced for free by supermarkets.”

The higher 10p charge extended to all retailers is expected to reduce the use of single-use plastic bags by 70 per cent to 80 per cent in small and medium sized businesses, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

The supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds have also been banned along with microbeads in personal care products. Ministers are consulting on a new deposit return scheme for drinks containers.

Bags for Life

There are no current requirements for reporting on Bag for Life sales and proceeds from sales do not need to be donated to good causes.

Planet Patrol is calling for more transparent reporting on the volume of plastic bags sold and how proceeds from charges are used.

A spokesperson said: “The plastic crisis is inseparable from the wider climate crisis, disproportionately impacting those who are most vulnerable to displacement and climate emergencies.

“Therefore, it must be addressed with urgency, and current legislation needs to be changed.”

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