Here’s why the price of plastic bags is doubling from 5p to 10p next year

By Stephanie Rendall
Monday, 31st August 2020, 2:32 pm
Updated Monday, 31st August 2020, 2:33 pm
The 5p charge for single-use plastic shopping bags was introduced in England in 2015.
The 5p charge for single-use plastic shopping bags was introduced in England in 2015. (Shutterstock)

The 5p fee for plastic shopping bags is set to double to 10p in England as the government plans to extend the charge to smaller shops from April 2021.

Smaller retailers in England (defined as those employing 250 people or less) supply about 3.6 billion single-use bags every year and according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) they will no longer be exempt from implementing the charge.

Greenpeace praised the decision as "a small step in the right direction" but also asked the government to implement "fast and substantial reductions on plastic pollution" beyond just carrier bags.

It comes after supermarket giant Morrisons began a free paper bag trial to replace the reusable plastic bags it sold, with the intention of getting rid of all plastic bags from its stores.

When was the 5p fee first introduced?

The 5p charge for single-use plastic shopping bags was introduced in England in 2015.

Since then, there have been approximately 15 billion fewer bags in circulation.

The year prior to the fee being introduced, in 2014, England's seven largest supermarkets handed out 7.6 billion plastic bags to customers for free, which equates to 140 plastic bags freely given to each member of the population.

Comparatively, three years on, this figure rapidly reduced to just over a billion bags being sold at major supermarkets across the UK between 2017 and 2018.

A public survey taken in England last year revealed that the "vast majority" of shoppers agreed with the government plans to raise the fee to 10p, in order to help decrease the amount of plastic made and used.

Where does the money go?

When the government set the new rules it clarified that it "expects" retailers to donate the new revenue gained from plastic bag sales to charitable causes.

However, doing so is not mandatory, and some retailers simply kept the proceeds for themselves.

According to Defra, between 2017 and 2018, an estimated £51 million was donated by large retail businesses in England with 250 or more employees.

However, the total figure remains unknown; data on donations is given to the government voluntarily by retailers and in this period only 62 percent of retailers provided the information.

What did Greenpeace say?

While Greenpeace praised the fee increase, it also urged the government to go further in its fight against single use plastics, describing plastic carrier bags as only "one part of the problem".

Greenpeace political campaigner Sam Chetan-Welsh, said: "By raising the price of plastic bags again the government is taking a small step in the right direction, but by now they should be taking great strides."

He also criticised government ministers saying they “know they could be driving fast and substantial reductions on plastic pollution".

"If they're increasing costs for shoppers, ministers really have no excuse not to increase costs for the companies that are responsible for the escalating volumes of single-use plastic packaging in the first place."