Dramatic drop in carrier bag use as charges now the 'norm'

By: Clare Fischer
Date posted: 28 July 2018

Disposable carrier bags issued by the seven biggest supermarket chains have declined by 86% since the charge was introduced in 2015, official figures showed.

Plastic Bag underwater
© Rich Carey / Shutterstock

Changing behaviour is an easy win which is why we’re confident the introduction of a bottle deposit return schemes across the UK would see people happily take back their drinks container to get their money back.

Dr Laura Foster,
MCS Head of Clean Seas

The figures suggest that in total Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, the Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons sold the equivalent of 19 5p bags per person across the UK, down from 24 last year. Campaigners, including MCS, who have been calling for charges for plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups, say it’s clear that adding a value to throwaway items results in long-term behaviour change.

Dr Laura Foster, MCS Head of Clean Seas, says: “The 5p charge has helped us remember to take our reusable bags to the supermarket. Changing behaviour is an easy win which is why we’re confident the introduction of a bottle deposit return scheme across the UK would see people happily take back their drinks containers to get their money back. We also believe a tax on ‘on-the-go’ items, like coffee cups, water bottles and plastic cutlery would encourage people to carry reusable cups and bottles - helping to reduce litter and increase recycling rates. The latte levy is a way to encourage people to use their reusable coffee cups and we want to see a ban on using single-use plastic when dining at restaurants and cafes.”

The total number of single-use plastic bags sold by all 249 retailers who reported in 2017-18 was 1.75 billion.

Donations from the bag levy to good causes amounted to over £58.5 million, based on figures from two-thirds of the retailers who voluntarily reported the information.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “These figures demonstrate the collective impact we can make to help the environment by making simple changes to our daily routines. We want businesses to continue to look at what they can do to help improve our environment to leave it in a better state than we found it.

“It is only by working together we will reverse the rising tide of plastic waste finding its way into our rivers, seas and oceans and the catastrophic impact this is having on our marine environment.”

But MCS, along with other campaigners, say the government must go further to tackle the problem of plastic waste.

Labour MP Mary Creagh, Chairwoman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said: “The public has enthusiastically embraced the plastic bag charge since it was introduced in 2015, which is good news for the environment and our economy.

“Tens of millions of pounds has been raised for local and national good causes but there are concerns that some large retailers are retaining all or part of the charge.

“We need to encourage behaviour change for other single-use plastics such as plastic bottles and coffee cups to change habits and reduce litter. We could also look at introducing a take-back scheme to cut the two billion bags a year we still use even further.”

MCS is appealing for beach clean organisers and volunteers to take part in its 25th Great British Beach Clean 14th- 17th September

Actions you can take

  1. Help us stop the plastic tide
  2. Join a beach clean
  3. Organise a beach clean
  4. Download the Great British Beach Clean Report 2019
  5. Visit the beachwatch website

Did you know?…

Since the carrier bag charge came in across the UK, the Great British Beach Clean has recorded almost 50% fewer bags on beaches

Plastic has been found in the stomachs of almost all marine species including fish, birds, whales, dolphins, seals and turtles

UK Seas provide us with resources from fish to renewable marine energy

Why not join a beach clean ... or organise one?

To date, our beach clean volunteers have removed 6 million pieces of litter from our beaches and collected marine litter data to support our campaigns for cleaner seas and beaches.

Learn more and join a beach clean