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The end of the plastic bag?

Plastic bag sales at England's seven biggest retailers down 90% since introduction of 5p charge
Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod
The end of the plastic bag?

Sales of plastic bags by the seven biggest retailers in England have fallen by 90% since the 5p charge was introduced in 2015, according to new figures released yesterday (31 July).

Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose sold 490 million fewer single-use plastic bags in 2018/19 (549 million) – a drop of almost half on the previous year.

The average person in England now buys just 10 bags a year from the main supermarket retailers, compared with 140 bags in 2014 before the charge was introduced.

‘No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife. Today’s figures are a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.’

Environment Secretary

Compared with the previous year, the total single-use carrier bag sales reported by all large retailers in 2018/2019 fell 37% to 1.11 billion.

Ocean plastic to treble

Government scientists believe plastic in the sea is set to treble in a decade unless marine litter is tackled. One million birds and over 100,000 sea mammals die every year from eating and getting tangled in plastic waste.

Yesterday’s figures reveal 5p plastic bag sales have also contributed around £169 million toward charities and other good causes since the charge was introduced on 05 October 2015, with more than £22 million raised in 2018/19 alone.

Apply charge to all bags

Maddy Haughton-Boakes, litter campaigner at the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), said the new figures are yet more evidence of the huge impact that a small financial incentive can have.

‘Theresa Villiers must now build on this success by rolling it out to all small shops, as well as larger retailers and supermarkets’, Maddy added. ‘There is also absolutely no reason why the charge shouldn’t be applied to all bags, paper as well as plastic, to bring an end to the use of these single-use items all together.’

Action on plastic

In a bid to tackle plastic waste, the government has also confirmed a ban on the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds from April 2020. Subject to consultation, plastic packaging that doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content will be taxed from April 2022.

The government is also consulting on the introduction of a deposit return scheme to drive up the recycling of drinks bottles and cans – another ‘small incentive’ that CPRE’s Maddy Haughton-Boakes says the government must ‘hurry up and introduce’ – for every single drinks can, bottle carton and pouch of all shapes, sizes and materials.

‘By placing a small deposit on all drinks containers, we will boost recycling rates to over 90%, create a circular economy for the tens of billions consumed each year, and bring an end to the environmental damage they cause’, Maddy adds.

Click here to read our article about which supermarkets are worst for plastics.

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