Has the UK Plastic Bag Charge Worked?

As of October 5th 2015, the 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 plastic carrier bag they give out. 

The primary aim was to reduce the use of plastic carrier bags — and the many problems they cause — by encouraging people to reuse bags.

Since the law’s introduction, there have been more developments, from increasing the UK plastic bag charge to 10p per bag and extending the law to all shops (not just supermarkets) as of April 2021. 

The government is also looking to introduce more laws banning other single-use plastics, which make up a significant proportion of the world’s plastic production.

But the question is, has the UK plastic bag charge worked? The short answer is…“sort of”.

The UK Plastic Bag Charge and the Environment

The good news is that the introduction of government policies has heightened public awareness of the issues surrounding the use of plastic bags, as well as other single-use plastics.

Most people living in the UK are now actively trying to cut down on the plastic they use and would support further government policies to reduce plastic usage (including doubling the 5p plastic bag charge).

In addition, half of Brits say they would pay more for products with eco-friendly packaging, whilst two-thirds of Britons think that all UK companies should be required by law to use packing that isn’t harmful to the environment.

With such support behind less harmful ways to pack our shopping and carry it home, it’s important to find out how much of a difference the plastic bag charge is making to our environment. 

This poses a challenging question: how can we measure the success of the plastic bag charge?

Plastic Bags: Past, Present and Future

To answer this question, we need to understand the lifespan of your typical plastic bag.

Plastic bags used by UK supermarkets are made with polyethylene (or polythene), a product of the fossil fuel industry. This kind of plastic can take over 20 years to degrade, meaning that the plastics we use today will be around long after we are gone.

From the moment we buy them, plastic bags have uncertain futures. Once they’ve fulfilled their initial purpose, it’s left to the consumer to decide their fate.

Sadly, the vast majority of plastic bags end up in landfill. The current rate of plastic production paints a bleak picture — with the production of plastics set to double by 2040. If this continues, people will be putting an enormous, unmanageable strain on our planet’s ecosystem.

So what other options do we have when it comes to plastic bags? 

The easiest option is to reuse the bags we buy as much as possible. Once the bags we own inevitably break, we then must find a plastic bag recycling facility where the bags can be repurposed.

With bans on plastic bags in Kenya, as well as in New York and California, alternatives are required before our reliance on the ubiquitous plastic bag returns. Using more durable plastic bags is part of the solution, but it doesn’t resolve the wider issue surrounding the use of plastic.

These bans have focussed the world’s attention on other plastic products. Plates, cups, cutlery, straws and bottles make up about 40% of the plastics manufactured worldwide. 

Along with the charge to use plastic bags in the UK, the government will introduce a ban on plastic straws in October 2020 as part of an effort to reduce our reliance on these kinds of plastics. 

It’s a step in the right direction, but what does this mean for the future of plastics?

Has the UK Plastic Bag Charge Made a Difference?

With a heightened awareness of the waste created by plastic bags and single-use plastics, as well as a progression towards more eco-friendly packing options, are we making a difference to the environment?

In some ways, it’s too early to tell. In other ways, it’s clear that we are becoming a more environmentally conscious society. Whilst we are a long way away from becoming plastic-free, the UK’s plastic bag charge is promoting more and more innovative solutions to our current plastic usage.

Takeaway Packing: The Antidote to Single-Use Plastics

Takeaway Packaging makes products that protect the environment.

We have a diverse range of biodegradable food packaging that’s helping street food vendors and independent foodies protect the environment as well as benefit their customers. From Ice Cream Tubs to Noodle Boxes, we cater to all culinary disciplines. 

Our certified eco-friendly food packaging exclusively uses natural resources for guilt-free takeaway consumption, all of which are fully personalisable. Add fresh logos to Takeaway Boxes or sassy slogans to Printed Bags for really radical recycling.

Interested in helping the environment and making your business a viable option for the conscious consumer? Take a look at our eco-friendly products today.