BY KATIE - MYGREENPOD, 26 Nov '18

41% of sneaky shoppers admit to stealing plastic carrier bags to avoid the charge

A surprising majority of shoppers have confessed to stealing plastic carrier bags during their weekly shop, it has been revealed.

Despite the 5p plastic bag levy introduced by the government in 2015, a survey collated by waste management agency BusinessWaste.co.uk shows light-fingered shoppers are still sneaking bags past the scanners in a bid to avoid paying.

The plastic bag stash

In the survey, which covered 1,000 shoppers from across the UK, 41% admitted to the theft of plastic bags at least once in the past 12 months, blaming shops who charge more than the minimum 5p amount set by the legislation.

One unabashed shopper said, ‘Most places charge 10p now – that’s just too much, especially when I’ve got a grand’s worth of them under the sink already!’

This appears to be a common attitude, with social media awash with jokes about plastic bag stashes being worth a small fortune after the charge came into effect – suggesting households are well aware that bags should, and can, be reused.

Misunderstanding the point of the levy

By avoiding the levy despite hoarding plenty of bags at home, the respondents highlight a misunderstanding of the purpose of the charge. It was introduced by the government to encourage the reuse of existing carrier bags, or a switch to a reusable product such as cotton shopping bags.

The move saw a dramatic reduction of the number of carrier bags issued in the year after the charge was introduced – down to 19 per person from 140. This suggests Brits have responded to the financial disincentive and are adopting more eco-friendly shopping habits.

However, 1.04 billion plastic bags were still sold by the seven major supermarkets in 2017-18 – and single-use plastic bags can take up to 1,000 years to break down. This means there’s still an enormous risk to the environment if shoppers don’t change their ways.

‘Shoppers may resent paying for plastic bags – but the solution is certainly not to steal them!’, said Mark Hall, communications director at BusinessWaste.co.uk ‘A cotton or jute tote bag is easy to keep in the car, your handbag, or by the front door and can be used hundreds of times. Of course, it means remembering to take it with you, but with a bit of preparation you never need to buy a plastic bag again – which is great, not only for the environment, but also for your wallet.’

Plastic bag levy consultation

Shoppers may soon find themselves more inclined to switch to reusable bags, as the government has announced a consultation on the plastic bag levy, to take place at the end of this year. The consultation could see the charge rolled out to all retailers, not just supermarkets – and crucially, it could see the minimum levy double to 10p per bag.

Mark added that, with government plans to increase the scope and cost of the plastic bag levy following the success of the initial 5p charge, ‘it’s the perfect time’ for shoppers to make the switch over to reusable bags.

‘Many people will have suitable bags lying around already, but they’re readily and cheaply available and, as with many lifestyle changes, once you’re used to taking a cloth bag with you, it’ll become second nature’, Mark said. ‘A tiny amount of forethought could have an enormously positive environmental impact, and that is something we should all endeavour to spend an extra second or two on before we head to the shops.’