By Lyndsey Hall
Since the 5p plastic bag charge was introduced in 2015, the UK has seen an 86% reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags, from around 140 per person to just 19. Now, the government is hoping to push that number down even further by doubling the price.
In a bid to tackle what she calls our “throwaway culture”, Prime Minister Theresa May is reportedly planning to double the plastic bag charge to 10p, or possibly even more, and extend it to all retailers and products. The original measure only effected retailers with over 250 employees, and didn’t include paper bags, or plastic bags for products like raw meat and fish, prescription medicines and some fresh produce.
England was the last part of the UK to introduce a 5p levy for plastic bags, but it was the only one to offer exemptions. Wales started charging for single-use carrier bags in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014, and since then consumption has dropped dramatically. Scotland saw an 80% drop in just 12 months, Wales cut consumption by 70% between 2011 and 2015, and Northern Ireland has successfully reduced plastic bag use by 67%.
One of the first countries to introduce a plastic bag levy was Republic of Ireland, which started charging 15 cents per bag back in 2002, before increasing the cost to 22 cents in 2007. As a result, consumption has dropped by an incredible 95%, proving that a higher levy can have a hugely beneficial effect.
Since the schemes began, scientists have found a 30% reduction in plastic bags littering the seabed. In the first study of its kind, environmental scientists looked at a large area of seabed from near Norway and Germany, to northern France and west to Ireland, back in 2010, around the midpoint of the levies being introduced across Europe, and again in 2018. Their findings show the power of levies like the plastic bag charge, and the huge effects such small changes can make to our environment.
“The fewer bags we use, the fewer we can lose, the fewer we can put into the environment,” said Thomas Maes of the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, the lead author on the paper. “If we all work together towards a better environment, we can make changes.”
Donations from the plastic bag levy amounted to over £58.5 million, based on figures from two thirds of retailers who voluntarily reported the information. Aside from a small tax, retailers are encouraged to donate most of the 5p per bag charge to a good cause.
Sky Ocean Rescue has some brilliant tips for ditching plastic waste and living a more sustainable, environmentally-conscious life. For more information on how cutting plastic waste can help keep the oceans clean and protect aquatic life, as well as reducing the amount of plastic that winds up in our food, check out Sky Ocean Rescue.