Introduced in October 2015 – the charge was aimed at reducing the number of single-use bags issued by retailers – in line with similar measures put in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
According to Defra, the measure has resulted in an 86% drop in the number of plastic bags issued by major supermarkets – with the equivalent of around 19 bags per person issued in 2017/18, compared to 140 bags per person prior to the charge.
Currently, the 5p charge applies only to larger retailers (those with more than 250 employees), but according to the government over 3.6 billion single-use plastic bags are supplied annually by small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) which are currently not covered by the legislation.
Some smaller retailers are currently voluntarily applying the 5p charge to single use bags, with some working through the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS) and the National Federation of Retail Newsagents (NFRN) on a campaign to support the charge.
Last week (December 27), the Environment Secretary Michael Gove announced plans to extend the charge to cover more businesses, as well as potentially doubling the minimum charge from 5p to 10p – in part due to an increase in the market share of small businesses in the retail sector.
Plans are also being consulted on to require producers of single use carrier bags to report the volume of material they place on the market as well as removing an exemption for the supply of carrier bags at airports.
Commenting on the steps, Mr Gove said: “The 5p single use plastic carrier bag charge has been extremely successful in reducing the amount of plastic we use in our everyday lives. Between us, we have taken over 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation.
“But we want to do even more to protect our precious planet and today’s announcement will accelerate further behaviour change and build on the success of the existing charge.”
Launch of the consultation follows on from the release of the government’s Resources and Waste Strategy, which outlined the long term policy vision for waste reduction and recycling (see letsrecycle.com story).
The consultation will run until 22 February 2019.
Single-Use Carrier Bag Charge Consultation