90% of Shoppers Snub Single Use Carrier Bags

5p bag levy sees fewer single use carrier bags

Carrier bags by Monticello (via Shutterstock).
Less waste: with fewer carrier bags being taken at the checkout, the 5p levy has resulted in more people reusing previously purchased bags. Image by Monticello (via Shutterstock).


This time one year ago, the 5p bag levy was akin to being the spawn of Satan. For a time, charging for carrier bags seemed like Armageddon for some commentators (though Kwik Save did so from the 1980s till its demise in 2007). Almost to the point it was claimed that oceans would rise; that house prices would fall; and that aeroplanes would fall from the sky. A year on, none of the hysterics happened. We lived our lives normally and adapted to the changes pretty well.

How well did we adjust to the five pence levy? Very well indeed. A survey from Cardiff University has noticed some changes in shoppers’ habits since its imposition. Though similar schemes are successful in Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, its success in England was a potentially sterner test. The results are staggering. It was stated that:

  • 90% of shoppers reuse their carrier bags;
  • Only 7% of shoppers opt for carrier bags at the checkout;
  • One in two shoppers take their own bags for the carriage of clothing;
  • Increased support for 5p levy – and similar waste management levies for plastic water bottles.

As a result of the five pence levy, 90% of us shoppers reuse previously purchased carrier bags. Alongside single use bags that are widely available, this has meant reusable jute bags, rucksacks, and longer lasting ‘Bag For Life’ plastic carrier bags. As a consequence, only 7% of shoppers buy a bag each time they visit their local shops. This is a substantial drop from 25% in October 2015.

With clothiers eschewing plastic bags in favour of fashionable paper-based carrier bags, more shoppers have elected to reuse them instead of plumping for new bags. Last October, 10% of those surveyed did just that. Today, this figure stands at 50%.

Professor Wouter Poortinga, who headed the study at Cardiff University said: “Overall, our research has shown that the English carrier bag charge has had a strong and positive impact on people’s attitudes and behaviours and that it successfully disrupted people using plastic bags.

“We’ve seen that the charge has become increasingly popular with the English population since it was introduced, and that it has changed attitudes towards waste policies as well.”

Increased support for five pence levy and similar waste management schemes

In spite of the doomsday predictions from some quarters, 51% of shoppers favoured the 5p levy on the 05 October 2015. Today, this figure has climbed to 62%. Plus, there is increased support for the extension of similar schemes. For example, a levy on plastic water bottles. Or a much needed boost for rinse and return schemes (who remembers returning empty pop bottles to the local off-licence?). Among the suggestions mooted is a deposit scheme for plastic bottles, or a levy on disposable coffee cups.

So far, Starbucks Coffee rewards its customers with a modest discount for using their own mug instead of a disposable one. This is one small step, but advertising it as a discount for individual mugs rather than a levy for disposables is the way to go. So far, for disposable cup recycling, this is only the beginning.

Overview: Carrier Bag Charges

There has been a 5p levy on carrier bags in England since the 05 October 2015. Retail businesses with fewer than 200 employees are exempt from the charge, which should benefit independent shops. Furthermore, free carrier bags can only be dispensed if used to carry fresh food (for example: meat from the local butchers, or a small bag for the carriage of takeaway food including sandwiches).

For more details, GOV.UK has a helpful guide, which includes a video clip.

Clean Hire, 30 September 2016.