Carrier bag charge: all you need to know

By on 05/10/2015 in Blog

Jacqui Kennedy, Acting Strategic Director of Place, explains why retailers must charge 5p for plastic carrier bags they provide from today (5 October 2015).

Whether you’re picking up groceries or treating yourself to a shopping spree, from today, you would be wise to take your own bags.

The new law, which comes into effect today, will mean most High Street retailers must charge 5p for single-use plastic carrier bags, to help reduce litter and increase recycling.

So when you do your weekly food shop at the supermarket, either in person or online, you will be charged 5p per bag, or more for sturdier reusable ‘bags for life’.

Last year more than 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England – about 140 bags per person.

Despite research showing the average household has 40 plastic bags, the number taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014.

These bags take longer to degrade in the environment, can damage wildlife, and are extremely visible when littered in our streets and green spaces. Biodegradable bags are not currently exempt, but the Government is reviewing industry standards and how these can be identified and separated in waste and recycling processes.

The charge will be compulsory in companies that employ more than 250 people, such as supermarket chains, and smaller businesses may also charge for bags on a voluntary basis. This is based on the size of the company, not individual branches – more information for retailer scan be found here.

It is hoped this new charge will lead to a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags – by as much as 80 per cent in supermarkets and 50 per cent in High Street stores.

This should also help reduce the number of bags being sent to landfill or the energy from waste plant at Tyseley, helping Birmingham to achieve its long-term ambition to become a zero-waste city.  It is also hoped this will result in fewer plastic bags on our streets, supporting our commitment to Cleaner Streets for Birmingham.

Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland: in Wales, plastic bag consumption was reduced by 79 per cent in the first three years of its scheme.

We, as a local authority, are responsible for enforcing this legislation – and businesses that fail to comply can face fines between £200 to £5,000 for not charging for bags, and up to £20,000 for giving false or misleading information.

Under the new rules, customers won’t be charged for paper bags or when shopping in airports or on trains, planes or ships, or when they contain certain items such as unwrapped raw fish or meat, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds/bulbs, flowers.

Over the next 10 years it is estimated that the charge will bring an overall benefit of £780m to the UK economy, raising up to £730m for good causes and saving £60m in litter clean-up costs.

Retailers will be able to donate the proceeds of this scheme to good causes, but it is for them to decide what to do and what causes to support. They will have to produce an annual report to on what they choose to do – the Government will produce this information each year.

So if you remember your bags for life, not only will you be helping to save the environment but also saving the pennies!

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