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Government steps up war on plastic with extension of carrier bag charge

Suban Abdulla
·2-min read
As a result of the charge the average person in England buys just four bags a year, compared to 140 in 2014.
As a result of the charge the average person in England now buys just four bags a year, compared to 140 in 2014. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA

The UK government intensified its war on plastic after announcing it will extend the “hugely successful” charge on single-use carrier bags to all retailers from April 2021.

In an effort to help protect the environment, the government implemented the “world-leading” plastic waste charge, preventing billions of plastic bags being sold and ending up in the ocean.

Since its introduction in 2015, the plastic bag charge has led to a 95% cut in plastic bags sales.

The levy, which currently stands at 5p ($0.07) and applies to any retailer that employs 250 or more people, will be raised to 10p to encourage people to purchase greener bags.

As a result of the charge, the average person in England now buys just four bags a year — compared with 140 in 2014.

Additionally, the government will also introduce a new tax on plastic packaging, which does not meet the current threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2022 — to encourage greater use of recycled plastic and help tackle waste.

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Environment secretary George Eustice said: "We have all seen the devastating impact plastic bags have on the oceans and on precious marine wildlife, which is why we are taking bold and ambitious action to tackle this issue head on.

"I hope our pioneering track record on single-use plastics will inspire many more countries to follow suit, so we can take on plastic waste together and implement lasting change.”

Eustice also praised “global efforts” but said that the government wants to “go further” by extending the levy to all retailers so it can continue to “cut unnecessary waste and build back greener.”

By extending the charge to all retailers, ministers hope to encourage small shops to also cut back on single-use bags as well as incentivise customers to use more sustainable and environmentally friendly “long-life” options.

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Head of Clean Seas at the Marine Conservation Society, Dr Laura Foster, said: “It’s encouraging to see the government take further steps in reducing our reliance on single-use plastic bags. Since the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge we’ve seen a more than 60% drop in the number of plastic bags on the UK’s beaches.

“It’s so important we reduce our reliance on single use items and we move to a culture of reuse. This increased charge, and extending to all retailers, will help remind people of everyday, simple changes they can make to help the marine environment.”

Today’s announcement will help the government refocus on accelerating its 25 Year Environment Plan, which aims to improve the environment “within a generation” after the coronavirus pandemic.