The single-use carrier bag charge is set to double from 5p to 10p and be extended to all businesses in England from 21 May.
As a result of the charge, which has seen a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in supermarkets since 2015, the average person in England now buys only four single-use carrier bags a year from supermarkets, compared with 140 in 2014, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA).
By extending the charge to all retailers, it is expected that the use of single-use carrier bags will decrease by 70-80% in small and medium-sized businesses.
Small businesses across the country are also being urged to “prepare themselves for the changes ahead of them” coming into force on 21 May. It comes as new research found the charge is supported “overwhelmingly” by the public, with 95% of people in England acknowledging the wide-ranging benefits to the environment so far.
Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: “The introduction of the 5p charge has been a phenomenal success, driving down sales of harmful plastic bags in supermarkets by a remarkable 95%.
“We know we must go further to protect our natural environment and oceans, which is why we are now extending this charge to all businesses. Over the next couple of weeks I urge all retailers of all sizes to make sure they are ready for the changes, as we work together to build back greener and strengthen our world-leading action to combat the scourge of plastic waste.”
Association of Convenience Stores CEO James Lowman added: “We strongly welcome the inclusion of local shops and other small businesses into the successful plastic bag charging scheme, which not only helps the environment, but is also a great way for retailers to raise money for local and national charities.”
It comes as a new report published today (7 May) from charity WRAP found a shift in attitude towards plastic bags since the charge was first brought in.
Through a survey of over 2,000 adults in England, it found:
- Close to seven in ten (69%) were either ‘strongly’ or ‘slightly’ in favour of the charge when it was first introduced, and that has increased now to 73%.
- Of those surveyed, two in three (67%) said they used a ‘bag-for-life’ – either fabric or more durable plastic – to take their shopping home for a large food shop in store, with only 14% using a single-use carrier bag.
- Only one in four (26%) purchase bags from the till when doing food shops – including 4% who say they do this ‘always’. This represents a “significant” fall since 2014 before the charge was introduced, when over twice as many (57%) reported taking plastic carrier bags from the till. Meanwhile, over half (54%) say they take less bags from the till.
- Almost half (49%) of 18-34s says they purchase carrier bags at the till at least sometimes, compared to just over one in ten (11%) of those aged 55+.
Since the introduction of the charge, retailers have donated over £150m to good causes in charity, volunteering, environment and health sectors.