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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/carrier-bag-charge-summary-of-data-in-england/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-charge-data-in-england-for-2018-to-2019
Since 5 October 2015, large retailers in England have been required by law to charge 5p for all single use plastic carrier bags. They are required by law to report certain information1 to Defra, and provide information on donations on a voluntary basis.
This publication summarises data collected by Defra for the 12 months reporting year from 7 April 2017 to 6 April 2018. We have previously published summaries for earlier years. We have published the full dataset on data.gov.uk. This includes the details provided by each retailer.
The summary for 2018 to 2019 is based on data from 221 retailers. There are 205 retailers who reported data for both 2018 to 2019 and 2017 to 2018, and in both years these accounted for more than 97% of the total single use plastic carrier bags reported. Therefore this difference in the retailers reporting in each year does not have a significant impact on the data or trends.
Table 1: Key figures on the carrier bag charge (1)
|2018 to 2019||2017 to 2018||2016 to 2017|
|Number of retailers reporting data||221||249||261|
|Total number of single use plastic bags reported (2)||1.11 billion||1.75 billion||2.12 billion|
|Number of single use plastic bags reported by the seven main retailers (3)||0.55 billion||1.04 billion||1.33 billion|
|Number of bags sold by the seven main retailers, per person of the population||10||19||24|
|Number of bags sold by all retailers reporting, per person of the population||20||32||38|
|Number of retailers supplying voluntary information about donations to good causes (4)||121||153||167|
|Total amount donated to good causes (4)||£22.9 million||£51.6 million||£65.4 million|
|Amount donated to good causes for every 5p bag sold by retailers giving this voluntary information||3.6 pence||3.8 pence||3.8 pence|
(1) Data for 2015/16 covered 6 months (5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016) and is not directly comparable. The results from 2015/16 are: 285 retailers reported, 1.1 billion single use bags were sold, 0.6 billion single use bags were sold by the main retailers and £29.2 million was donated to good cause.
(2) A small number of retailers reported data on a voluntary basis. These retailers account for less than 1% of all reported bags.
(3) The main retailers are Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons.
(4) The headline figures on donations are not directly comparable between 2017/18 and 2018/19 due to changes in the retailers providing this information.
The main retailers (Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose) sold 549 million single use plastic carrier bags in England in 2018 to 2019, compared to 1 billion in 2017 to 2018. This is a decrease of 490 million bags (47%). These retailers account for around 50% of the total bags reported by all retailers for 2018 to 2019. In previous years they have accounted for around 60% of total bags reported.
This is equivalent to each person in the population using 10 bags in 2018 to 2019, compared to 19 bags in 2016 to 2017, and 140 bags in 2014 before the charge was introduced. All of the main retailers saw a reduction in the usage of single use bags. Tesco and Morrisons saw the largest reductions of 211 million (63%) and 118 million bags (64%) respectively.
WRAP have previously reported that the main retailers in England issued 7.6 billion single use carrier bags in the calendar year 2014, before the carrier bag charge was introduced. Our data indicates that, in comparison to this, there has been a decrease of more than 90% of bags (over 7.1 billion bags less) in 2018 to 2019.
The total number of single use plastic bags sold by all retailers who reported in 2018 to 2019 was 1.11 billion, a 37% decrease on the figures reported by all retailers in 2017 to 2018. This figure of 1.11 billion includes a small number of single use carrier bags (less than 1%) that were reported on a voluntary basis.Just over half (55%) of the retailers reported additional information on how they chose to donate proceeds from the carrier bag charge.
These retailers donated over £22 million to good causes, amounting to around 3.6p for each 5p single use bag sold by them.
Donations to good causes
Around 55% of retailers who accounted for 57% of all bags reported for 2018 to 2019, voluntarily provided information on donations they had made to good causes. It excludes two of the main retailers, who had reported donations of £7.7 million in the previous year. In total they donated £22.9 million to good causes amounting to around 3.6p for each 5p single use bag sold by them. The total donation figures for each year are not directly comparable.
Amounts donated to good causes
Out of the total amount donated by retailers to good causes:
- £3.8 million (16%) went solely to good causes in charity or voluntary sectors, environment and health
- £6.3 million (28%) went to local causes chosen by customers or staff
- £12.8 million (56%) went to a combination of good causes (relating to education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity or voluntary sectors, local causes)
Figure 1: Amount donated by retailers to specific areas in 2018 to 2019 (£ million donated)
|Cause||Amount donated (£ million)|
|Combined good causes (1)||12.8 million|
|Local causes chosen by customers and staff||6.3 million|
|Charity or voluntary||3.5 million|
(1) Relating to education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity or voluntary sectors, local causes.
Types of good causes
Figure 2: Percentage of retailers donating to different types of good causes in 2018 to 2019
|Cause||Percentage of retailers donating to different types of good causes|
|Charity or voluntary||44%|
|Local causes chosen by customers and staff||21%|
|Combined good causes (1)||18%|
(1) Relating to education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity or voluntary sectors, local causes.
Figure 2, above, shows the types of good causes to which retailers donated in 2018 to 2019. This chart only covers the 121 retailers who provided this information, and includes five of the seven main retailers:
- charity/voluntary was the most popular choice with 44% of retailers donating to these
- 21% of retailers donated to local causes chosen by customers or staff
- 18% of retailers chose to donate to other or combined good causes relating to education, art, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity/voluntary and other sectors
Trends in carrier bag use
For the 2018 to 2019 period, the main retailers (Asda, The Co-operative Group, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) sold 549 million single use plastic bags compared to 1 billion sold in 2017 to 2018. This is a decrease of 490 million bags (a 47% decrease).
All of the main retailers saw a reduction in the usage of single use bags. Throughout the year a number of retailers have made announcements in regards to single use bags. Tesco and Morrisons saw the largest reductions of 211 million (63%) and 118 million bags (64%) respectively. Asda saw a decrease of 86.1 million (45%), Marks and Spencer saw a decrease of 36.7 million (40%), The Co-operative Group saw a decrease of 25.1 million (21%), and Waitrose saw a decrease of 12.4 million (20%). Sainsbury’s had a more modest reduction of around half a million bags (1%),
WRAP reported in 2014 that the main retailers circulated 7.64 billion single use carrier bags in England. See WRAP’s data for England in 2014, covering 6 of the 7 retailers. Defra’s data for the year April 2018 to April 2019 shows that the main retailers sold 549 million single use carrier bags, a reduction of over 90% on the number of carrier bags since the charge was introduced. This is equivalent to each person in the population using 10 bags per year during 2018 to 2019 compared to 19 during 2017 to 2018 and 140 in 2014 before the charge was introduced.
The total number of single use plastic carrier bags reported by all retailers was 1.11 billion in 2018 to 2019 compared with 1.75 billion by all retailers who reported in 2017 to 2018. This is a decline of 37%. In 2018 to 2019, a small number of retailers (6) have reported data on a voluntary basis. These retailers account for less than 1% of all reported bags.
There are 205 retailers who reported data for both 2018 to 2019 and 2017 to 2018. These retailers accounted for more than 97% of the total single use carrier bags sold in both years, so the slight change in retailers reporting over the two years does not have a significant impact on the aggregate figures.
We rely on retailers who fall within the scope of the carrier bag charge to register and report their single use plastic carrier bag data.
Large retailers are required to charge a minimum of 5p per bag for carrier bags that are all of the following:
- unused – it is new and has not already been used for sold goods to be taken away or delivered
- plastic and up to 70 microns thick
- has handles, an opening and isn’t sealed
- sold by a large retailer who employs 250 or more full-time equivalent employees in total (not just in retail roles) - it is possible that for some of these, the retail element may be a relatively small part of their business.
Retailers are not required by law to report on carrier bag use if they:
- do not distribute bags within the definition of single use plastic carrier bags (above)
- only distribute paper bags and/or bags for life
- are small and medium-sized businesses with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent employees (as they are not required to charge for bags – although many do charge, and some have reported data this year on a voluntary basis)
Some bags are exempt from the charge, although retailers can choose to charge for them. These include plastic bags that are solely used to contain certain items, including uncooked meat, poultry and fish; unwrapped food for animal or human consumption; loose seeds; flowers; unwrapped blades; and prescription medicine. Retailers do not have to charge if the bag only contains these items, but have to charge if other items are added.
Read more about retailers’ responsibilities.
Notes on the data
The following retailers reported data on the number of single use plastic carrier bags sold:
- 221 retailers in 2018 to 2019 (6 retailers reported data on a voluntary2 basis)
- 249 retailers in 2017 to 2018
- 261 retailers in 2016 to 2017
- 285 retailers in 2015 to 2016 (six months’ data)
205 retailers reported data in both 2018 to 2019 and 2017 to 2018, and for both years these accounted for over 97% of all single use carrier bags sold so the slight change in retailers reporting does not have a significant impact on trends for the aggregate figures.
For the 2018 to 2019 reporting year:
- 16 retailers provided data for the first time - these retailers account for 0.3% of the total number of single use bags reported for 2018 to 2019
- 44 retailers who submitted data for 2017 to 2018 did not report data for 2018 to 2019 - in 2017 to 2018 these retailers accounted for less than 3% of the total number of single use bags
- 9 of the retailers not reporting in 2018 to 2019 notified us that they have stopped issuing single use plastic carrier bags, and are therefore are no longer obligated to report data
- 4 of the retailers not reporting in 2018 to 2019 notified us that they have stopped operating in the last 12 months, so although they may have issued some carrier bags in this reporting period, it was not possible to obtain their data - 1 of these retailers was purchased by another company and they have reported under a new name (the data only covers part of the year)
- 1 of the retailers not reporting in 2018 to 2019 informed us that they are not obligated to complete a return as they have fewer than 250 employees (and are now not reporting)
- the remaining 30 retailers who did not report, did not notify us of the reason for not supplying the information - these retailers together sold 6.4 million bags in 2017 to 2018 (0.4% of total bags)
The data for the latest year 2018 to 2019 are not exactly comparable against the data from the previous year for 2017 to 2018, owing to slight differences in the list of retailers who provided data. However, this difference in the retailers reporting does not have a significant impact on the overall aggregate figures or the trend.
Retailers provide data on donations on a voluntary basis. Changes in retailers who reported information mean that direct comparison across years is not appropriate.
In 2017 to 2018 data on donations was provided by 153 (61%) retailers. They accounted for 77% of all bags reported for that period. Marks and Spencer did not report.
In 2018 to 2019, this data was provided by 121 retailers (55%). They accounted for 57% of all bags reported for 2018 to 2019. The Co-operative Group and Waitrose did not report; their combined donations for 2017 to 2018 were £7.7 million.
Number of single use carrier bags sold under the charge, gross proceeds, any costs incurred and the use of the net proceeds ↩
Through quality assurance, it seemed that respondents had not understood the basis for competing the mandatory/voluntary reporting field which was intended to capture whether they were obliged to report data. The criteria is mainly based on size. For around 20 retailers their mandatory/voluntary reporting field has been amended based on the number of employees they reported. ↩