By Lyndsey Hall
From October 5th, all retailers with 250 or more employees will have to charge at least 5p for plastic carrier bags. Small shops are exempt, as are paper bags, and any plastic bags for carrying uncooked meat, prescription medicines or certain fresh produce.
England is the last part of the UK to introduce such a law, however the exemptions could mean that the scheme may not be as effective as in other areas; where the law applies to all shops, and all types of disposable bags, including paper ones.
Wales introduced a 5p per bag charge in 2011, and since then usage by customers has decreased by 71%. Scotland applied the charge in 2014 and has seen a drop of 12.8%; Northern Ireland introduced the scheme in 2013 and usage has gone down by 42.6%.
In 2014, 7.6 billion plastic bags were given out in England, that’s 140 per person
Over 650 million were used in Scotland; 77 million in Wales and 33 million in Northern Ireland.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable, meaning that they can remain in landfill for hundreds of years, and the cost of producing these ‘disposable’ bags is astronomical. The government hopes that the new scheme will cut usage in England by 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street, saving £60 million in litter clean-up costs, and generating £730 million for good causes over the next decade. The majority of the money raised from the new charge will go to charity, with a percentage going to the government in tax.
There are several exemptions to the law, for example if you purchase uncooked meat from the meat counter it will still come in a free plastic bag, or if you buy loose produce such as fruit and veg. Anything that could be contaminated with soil, such as potatoes and seeds, will still get you a free bag; and prescription medicines will too. Paper bags are still free in England, unlike in the rest of the UK, as they are more environmentally friendly.
Do you think plastic bags will fall out of favour, and we’ll resort to reusing that stash of bags we all keep on top of the fridge? Or will we begrudgingly pay the extra each time we shop? We’d love to hear your thoughts, leave a comment or get in touch on Facebook and Twitter.
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