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Three Years On: Has the 5p Bag Charge Made a Difference?

15 August 2018

It has been almost three years since the Government implemented the 5p charge for single-use plastic carrier bags sold in large shops. Large shops were defined by the Government as retailers that employee 250 or more members of staff. Essentially, almost all supermarkets, high street retailers and DIY shops were to start charging 5p for single-use plastic carrier bags, and some smaller independent businesses voluntarily adopted the charge.

As detailed in our blog ‘Is the 5p bag charge any good for the environment?’, the aim of the charge was to reduce the amount of single-use plastic bags purchased and thrown away in an attempt to reduce the negative environmental impact of single-use plastics.

So, where are we now? Has the 5p charge achieved what it was set to do? Has progress been made towards eliminating the need for single-use plastic bags?

The most recent data reported by the Government indicates that the 5p charge has undeniably reduced the purchase of single-use plastic bags. The data from the 2017 – 2018 reporting year shows that there has been an 86% decrease in the number of single-use plastic bags purchased when compared to 2014 reporting year. According to the data reported by the 7 main retailers (Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose), the number of bags sold to each individual person is down from 24 to 19. In terms of pollution impacts, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas) has noticed a sharp decline in single-use plastic bags marine litter during trawl surveys of the seafloor (Transform).

To many this can be considered incredible progress and the success of many different stakeholders, organisations and sectors working together to achieve a common goal, but what does it mean for the reduction of other single-use plastics on the market?

Today, many retailers are working towards eliminating the use of single-use plastics. Supermarkets are ridding produce aisles of plastic bags and setting up bulk buy for customers. Coffee retailers are changing cup designs, offering discounts to customers who bring in reusable cups and removing plastic straws from circulation. Big brand names are making sustainability commitments and introducing product overhauls. Heinz Ketchup has recently announced a ‘sustainability makeover’ for all its product packaging which is to be complete by 2025.

So, what do you think is the best way forward – a monetary charge on single-use plastics, or retailers shouldering the responsibility and eliminating their use of single-use plastics?

Let us know what you think in the comments below. If you are interested in ways to minimise your use of plastics at home, see our previous blog ‘Reducing Plastic Waste – How can we minimise this in everyday life?

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