Plastic bag use plummets in England

Plastic bag use has plummeted in England since the introduction of a 5p charge last year, the government says.

In the six months after the levy was brought in last October, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven major supermarkets in England, it says.

In 2014, the waste reduction charity Wrap estimated the same supermarkets had used 7.64 billion bags.

The government says if the trend continues over the year, six billion fewer bags will have been used.

It follows the pattern seen in the rest of the UK since the introduction of charges for bags.

Wales introduced a levy in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. They saw reductions in bag use of 76%, 71% and 80%, respectively, in the first year after the fee was established.

The charge was introduced in England on 5 October 2015, with all retailers with more than 250 full-time employees required to charge a minimum of 5p to customers for single-use, plastic carrier bags.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now collating data on their use.

Environment minister Therese Coffey said the reduction in the number of bags being used was ‘fantastic news’.

‘It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites.’

This reduction in plastic could benefit the environment, especially the oceans.

A report published in the journal Science in 2015 estimated that about eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in global waters each year.

Dr Sue Kinsey, from the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, said: ‘Every year we survey our beaches, and last year we found over 5,000 bags over one weekend.’

She said that birds and marine mammals ate plastic, and bags were also breaking down into smaller pieces and being consumed by tiny marine organisms.

‘We’re hoping with the charges in place now in all parts of the UK, we’ll see a decrease in the number of bags washing up on our shores.’

However she said that England could do more to further reduce plastic pollution.

She said she wanted to see the exemption for small businesses on charging the levy removed.

‘There’s no exemption in Scotland and Wales for instance.

‘If that exemption was removed, we’d see even more plastic bags removed from the environment, which has only got to be good news.’

The government said that extending the 5p charge would be too much of an administrative burden for smaller businesses.


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