31 August 2020 by James Langley

Plastic bag charge to be extended

Defra said today (31 August) it would be stepping up its “war on plastic” by extending the plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers from April 2021.

Following a public consultation last year, the government is also to double the 5p minimum charge at the same time.

The current levy stands at 5p and applies to any retailer employing 250 or more people

Environment secretary George Eustice said: “We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head on.

“The UK is already a world-leader in this global effort, and our carrier bag charge has been hugely successful in taking billions of harmful plastic bags out of circulation. But we want to go further by extending this to all retailers so we can continue to cut unnecessary waste and build back greener.

“I hope our pioneering track record on single-use plastics will inspire many more countries to follow suit, so we can take on plastic waste together and implement lasting change.”

Statistics published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in June show the current levy, which stands at 5p and applies to any retailer employing 250 or more people, has led to a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets since 2015 (see letsrecycle.com story).


Defra says that as a result of the carrier bag charge the average person in England now buys just four bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with 140 in 2014.

“It’s so important we reduce our reliance on single use items”

Dr Laura Foster, Marine Conservation Society

By extending the charge to all retailers, ministers say they want to see bag usage cut significantly in small shops as well, with customers incentivised to use long-life bags made from more sustainable and environmentally friendly materials.

Dr Laura Foster, head of clean seas at the Marine Conservation Society said: “It’s encouraging to see the government take further steps in reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bags. Since the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge we’ve seen a more than 60% drop in the number of plastic bags on the UK’s beaches.

“It’s so important we reduce our reliance on single use items and we move to a culture of reuse. This increased charge, and extending to all retailers, will help remind people of everyday, simple changes they can make to help the marine environment.”


The 5p charge for single-use plastic carrier bags came into effect in England on 5 October 2015 (see letsrecycle.com story). The scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use plastic carrier bags and sees the proceeds donated to charitable causes.

In January 2019, Defra began consulting on plans to increase the minimum charge for retailers issuing single-use carrier bags to 10p, as well as extending the charge to cover smaller shops (see letsrecycle.com story).

On March 21, however, the 5p charge was waived for online delivery plastic bags as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, a temporary measure which is expected to end on 21 September (see letsrecycle.com story).


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