5p carrier bag charge becomes law today

Supermarket shoppers now must pay 5p for single-use carrier bags under a new law introduced in England to stem litter and help wildlife. Photo: Benjamin Wright/PA Wire
Supermarket shoppers now must pay 5p for single-use carrier bags under a new law introduced in England to stem litter and help wildlife. Photo: Benjamin Wright/PA Wire
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  • 5p charge for single-use plastic bags from retailers employing over 250 staff
  • Number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets in 2014 increased for the fifth year running to 8.5 billion
  • In England, more than 7.6 billion were given out in 2014, the equivalent of 140 per person and 61,000 tonnes in total
  • Wales, the first in the UK to adopt a charge, saw a reduction in plastic bags being handed out of 79% in the first three years
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From today (5 October), large stores will be charging shoppers 5p per single use carrier bag in the latest move to save the environment.

Any unused, plastic bags with handles which are 70 microns thick or less will have a charge to the customer.

Paper bags will be exempt from this new law, as will plastic bags from airport shops, on trains, planes and ships.

And the rules will only apply to businesses that sell or delivers goods, but only those with more than 250 members of full-time staff.

But the Association of Convenience Stores said it was encouraging its members in England to introduce their own voluntary charging schemes where practical.

James Lowman, chief executive of the ACS, said: “Independent retailers in England support the introduction of a universal 5p single-use carrier bag charge, with 15% already having their own voluntary scheme in place.

“Unfortunately, the Government has chosen to exclude small businesses, creating confusion for both retailers and consumers.”

Exemptions from the 5p charge

The new rules could cause confusion at the checkouts as many items are exempt, including:

Uncooked fish and fish products.

The Government has chosen to exclude small businesses, creating confusion for both retailers and consumers

James Lowman, ACS

Uncooked meat, poultry and their products.

Unwrapped food for animal or human consumption e.g. chips or food sold in containers not secure enough to prevent leakage.

Unwrapped loose seeds, flowers, bulbs or goods contaminated by soil.

Unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades

Prescription medicine.

Live aquatic creatures in water.

Woven plastic bags.

Goods in transport, such as at an airport or on a train, plane or ship.

Items considered as sealed packaging for mail order and click-and-collect orders.

Returnable multiple reuse bags (bags for life).

Bags used to give away free promotional material.

Bags used for a service where there’s no sale of goods e.g. dry cleaning, shoe repairs.

If even one non-exempt item is placed in the bag, cashiers must charge 5p.

Bag charges to help good causes

Retailers are expected to donate all proceeds from carrier bag sales to good causes.

In Scotland, Boots has been giving money from charges to Macmillan Cancer Support. From October, it will give all UK proceeds to Children in Need.

Morrisons will give money to the Sue Ryder hospices and Superdrug is donating the money to support Marie Curie Cancer Care.

Break the Bag Habit

The initiative appears to have the support of the majority of shoppers in England, with 62% thinking it is reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags - a 6% increase on 2012, a poll for the Break the Bag Habit coalition of litter charities found.

Break the Bag Habit spokeswoman Samantha Harding said: “This poll shows that the appetite is there to support a more comprehensive scheme, and tackle more of the bag litter that blights our countryside, rivers, towns and seas.”

Find out more about charges for single-use plastic carrier bags.