Everyone should be somewhat familiar with the 5p charge on plastic bags, or more formally, the levy imposed by the Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015.

Large businesses, which are defined as retailers who have 250 or more employees, are required to charge for single-use plastic carrier bags. Charging for biodegradable bags has been expressly excluded.   It was imposed with the aim of encouraging people to reuse bags, use ‘bags for life’ and to reduce waste.  The Order has been in force since 5th of October 2015, meaning the charge has now been imposed for two and a half years.

plastic bag

Results of the 5p per carrier bag scheme

During the first 6 months of the scheme, there were 1.1bn single-use plastic carrier bags sold. 0.6bn of those were sold by the 7 main retailers, Asda, Marks and Spencer’s, Sainsbury, Tesco, The Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons. This indicates that 54% of single-use carrier bags sold were from large retailers.

The data collected for the period of April 2016 to April 2017 shows a rise of 62%, as 1.3bn were sold by the 7 main retailers during the period, whilst 2.1bn overall were sold in the country.

However, the 7 main retailers’ sale of single-use plastic carrier bags has dropped by 83% from 2014 to the period of 2016 to 2017. That means that from 140 bags per person sold in 2014, this has reduced to 25 bags per person in one year.  This can be regarded as a big win for the law.

Extending the scheme

Because the scheme has had success so far, there have been suggestions to extend the scheme further. The government also proposed in the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs’ paper ‘A Green Future: Our 25 Year Plan to Improve the Environment’ that the order should cover all retailers in the UK, not just those with 250 employees or more.

Other suggestions have also floated around, from the latte levy in January, to creating a deposit scheme for plastic bottles.

Latte Levy

The Environmental Audit Committee suggested in January that there should be a charge of 25p per disposable coffee cup.  This is to help reduce the amount that is thrown away. Reports suggest that over 2.5 billion disposable cups are thrown away in the UK every year.  Ministers also insists that throwaway cups should be banned by 2023.

However, the ‘latte levy’ was rejected. Ministers preferred shops offering voluntary discounts to customers who use their own reusable cups.  Many of the large coffee chains in the UK offer incentives, ranging from 20p to 50p discounts for bring their own reusable cups.

However, people are always more likely to respond to a charge than a discount.


Plastic Bottles Deposit Scheme

Recently, the Government announced a scheme to tackle plastic bottles. Under the new scheme, an extra charge will be added to each sale of plastic bottle which can be refunded when the empty bottle is returned to retailers.

Ministers proposed this in light of the growing issue of plastic pollution in oceans.

plastic bottle

Written by Kim Nielsen, 3rd year undergraduate law student


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