Following in the footsteps of Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, England became the last nation of the union introduce a plastic carrier bag charge last year. Under the new rules introduced in October 2015, any major retailer that employs more than 250 staff has to charge 5p for every single-use plastic bag they give away. Six months on and the results have been astounding.
In 2014 there were more than 7 billion plastic bags handed out in shops across the UK, but this number is thought to have dropped to 640 million in the first six months since the introduction of the new levy. This is an impressive 85 percent drop in the number of bags being issued by shops across England, with people instead encouraged to take reusable bags with them when they shop.
This follows the trends seen in the rest of the UK, with bag use dropping 71 percent in Northern Ireland, 76 percent in Wales, and 80 percent in Scotland in the years after the 5p charge was introduced. The charge has also helped to raise close to £30 million ($40 million), which has been donated to good causes, such as charities, environmental causes, and community groups. With success seen in tackling the problem with large supermarket chains, there are now calls to extend the levy to small businesses, as has been done in Scotland and Wales.
It is hoped the scheme will help the environment by reducing the amount of plastic that ends up in the landfill, as well as the amount that then gets blown out to sea. It is thought that about 8 million tonnes (8.8 million tons) of plastic ends up in the oceans every year, and a recent study found that plastic that originated in the UK has even been found floating in the frigid waters of the Arctic. “It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites,” says the Environment Minister Therese Coffey.