English Plastic Bag Use Plunges 85%

5p plastic bag charges see a drastic drop in single use carrier bag usage

A clean street, especially one cleaned by one of our hired industrial cleaners, brings us great joy.  In the last year, you would have noticed a few things in our towns and cities.  Most tangibly, fewer plastic bags littering the pavements.  It has become the in-thing to buy a ‘bag for life’ and uses the same bag for months or years.  Some people plump for canvas tote bags that are fashionable and functional.

This week, via DEFRA figures, we have learned about a staggering 85% drop in the use of plastic carrier bags in England.  Since its introduction on the 05 October 2015, the number of plastic bags used in England fell from seven billion to half a billion within the first six months.  This follows the imposition of a similar levy in Wales which has had similarly spectacular results.

The 5p charge applies to retail premises and chains with 250 employees or more.  Some retail chains have softened the blow for its customers by donating the 5p levy to charities.  Exceptions apply if the bag is used for storing loose food items (like weighed fruit and vegetables, meat, and fish). For online shopping deliveries, fewer carrier bags seem to have been used in the last year. Before the 05 October 2015, profligacy instead of frugality was the rule with lightly filled plastic bags.

Charges for plastic bags are nothing new. Since their arrival on British soil, Aldi and Lidl have charged for carrier bags. Before their demise, the original Kwik Save chain did the same, charging 3p for a stronger bag, or 1p for a flimsier single use bag. Their aim – as well as Aldi’s and Lidl’s – was to keep food prices down.

Could disposable coffee cups be next?

Friends of the Earth are pushing for similar charges for disposable coffee cups. A familiar sight of any coffee shop, the disposable cups used for lattes and cappuccinos are impregnated with a thin inner plastic layer. Therefore, the average ‘paper cup’ from Costabucks Nero’s Republic is unrecyclable.

In advance of any plastic bag style levies, Starbucks Coffee shops in the UK have started selling reusable cups (of similar design to their disposable ones). For a pound, customers using their reusable cups get a discount on their drinks. This also applies to customers with their own ceramic mugs. In March 2016, the then Secretary of State for DEFRA, Rory Stewart MP snubbed such proposals.