In October 2015, a five-pence fee for plastic carrier bags came into effect in England, requiring all supermarkets and large stores to charge a minimum of 5p for every single-use carrier bag they gave out.
Since the law’s introduction, we have seen several developments. The plastic bag charge increased to 10p per bag in April 2021 and was extended to all shops, not just supermarkets.
So has the UK plastic bag charge worked? Yes, it has!
Since the scheme was introduced, the number of bags sold by major supermarkets has decreased by more than 95% in England.
But what does this mean for the future? Will selling plastic bags be banned altogether? Will supermarkets return to using paper bags like those used before plastic bags became popular? Let’s find out.
Why Was the Plastic Bag Charge Introduced?
To understand where we’re heading, we need to know why a charge for plastic bags was introduced. Before the law was introduced in 2015, more than 7.6 billion single-use carrier bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England.
That accounts for a lot of plastic waste, most of which has ended up in landfills, even though some plastic bags are recyclable. This is one of the main reasons why the scheme was introduced — to help protect the environment.
The government aimed to reduce our collective reliance on single-use carrier bags and the litter associated with them by encouraging people to reuse bags and carriers. Ultimately, the campaign has successfully heightened public awareness of the issues surrounding single-use plastic bags and the potential damage they cause.
Are Plastic Bags Bad for the Environment?
The plastic carrier bags used by supermarkets in the UK are made with polyethylene (PE), a product of the fossil fuel industry. Even if you opt for a recycled plastic bag, this kind of material takes over 20 years to decompose, sometimes far longer.
Much of the plastic products and packaging in circulation today will be around for centuries. From the moment they’re manufactured, plastic bags have uncertain futures. Once they’ve fulfilled their initial purpose, it’s left to the consumer to decide their fate — the vast majority of plastic bags end up in general waste.
This is mainly because they perish quickly — splitting, ripping or tearing as part of general use. Not only is this inconvenient, but it also raises questions for consumers about what to do with plastic bags once they’re no longer fit for their original purpose.
With this in mind, it’s essential to consider how the population feels about being charged for carrier bags.