Research and analysis

Single-use plastic carrier bags charge: data in England for 2015 to 2016

Published 30 July 2016

From 5 October 2015, large shops in England were required to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags. They are required to report certain information to Defra, and they provide other information on a voluntary basis.

This publication summarises the data reported to Defra for the first reporting period, the half year from 5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016.

We have published the full dataset on data.gov.uk, detailing the information provided by each retailer.

Key points

In England over this six month period:

  • 1.1 billion single-use carrier bags were sold by large retailers who registered and reported data (this figure may also include some reusable carrier bags)
  • around 0.6 billion single-use carrier bags (61 percent of the total) were issued by 7 main retailers (Asda, Marks and Spencer’s, Sainsbury, Tesco, The Co-operative group, Waitrose and WM Morrison)
  • WRAP have previously reported data for these 7 main retailers which showed that, during the full 2014 calendar year, they issued 7.6 billion single-use carrier bags
  • the gross proceeds from the levy were £52.8 million, while the net proceeds after taking into account VAT and any costs amounted to £41.3 million
  • more than two-thirds of retailers voluntarily provided additional information on the amount donated and the type of good causes for the donations
  • at least £29.2 million was donated to good causes – environment, education, health, arts, charity or voluntary organisations, heritage and sports as well as local causes chosen by customers or staff

Notes on the data

285 large retailers registered and reported data to Defra for this first reporting period. They are required to report some of the information, but reporting of other additional information is voluntary. Not all retailers have provided the additional voluntary information; some have noted that they do not collect this.

We have undertaken checks and testing on the reporting website, and carried out basic quality assurance of the data, to ensure accuracy and consistency as far as possible. We resolved most data queries but we will review the guidance and consider the feedback we have received from retailers in order to improve the next reporting period.

Some specific notes on the data include the following:

  • some retailers charge more than 5p per bag and in some cases may use two different rates where they sell different types of bag; one may be marketed as reusable but is not classed as a bag for life
  • some retailers have chosen to donate the full gross proceeds to good causes – the amount donated to charity will therefore be larger than the net proceeds
  • the reporting system defaults to a standard VAT rate of 20 per cent but retailers have the option to enter their own figures; in some cases the retailer has a different rate

WRAP have previously reported information on carrier bags on the basis of a voluntary agreement with seven main retailers (Asda, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose).

Their data for 2014 showed that there were 7.64 billion single-use carrier bags issued in England by these retailers over the full calendar year.

The data for the six months from October 2015 to April 2016 show a very substantial fall in the number of single-use plastic bags issued by these seven main retailers to just 0.6 billion single-use carrier bags.

Reporting of data

Retailers who fall within the scope of the carrier bag charge are required to register and report their single-use carrier bag data. They are not required to report on carrier bag use if:

  • they do not distribute bags within the definition of single-use plastic carrier bags
  • they only distribute paper bags
  • they only sell bags for life, that is, bags which are thicker than 70 microns (these are exempt from the charge)
  • they are small and medium-sized businesses with less than 250 full-time equivalent employees (as they are not required to charge for bags)