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This publication is available at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/single-use-plastic-carrier-bags-why-were-introducing-the-charge/carrier-bags-why-theres-a-5p-charge
We want to reduce the use of single-use carrier bags, and the litter they can cause, by encouraging people to reuse bags.
From 21 May 2021 the charge for single-use carrier bags increased to a minimum of 10p and was extended to all retailers.
1. Which shops charge for bags
All retailers of all sizes must charge for single-use carrier bags.
It’s not just supermarkets who are affected - high street, out-of-town shops and takeaways are also required to charge for bags.
Whether or not a shop must charge for bags depends on the size of the company that runs the shop, not on the size of an individual branch. There’s more information in our guidance for retailers.
2. Bags for life
As a shopper, you can avoid being charged by bringing your own bags. In some shops, you can buy thicker, reusable ‘bags for life’.
Typically, you pay for these once, and can return them for a free replacement when they wear out.
3. When you’re not charged for a bag
Retailers are not required to charge you for the following:
- paper bags
- bags that are sealed transit bags used for alcohol and tobacco
- bags which only contain certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish where there is a food safety risk, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers, or live fish
We’ve set out full details of all of the exemptions from the charge in our guidance for retailers.
In cases where retailers are not required by law to charge for a bag, it is up to them to decide whether or not to charge.
There is nothing in the law that prevents retailers from charging for bags, even where there’s an exemption.
4. Benefits: why there’s a charge
The scheme aims to reduce the use of single-use carrier bags, and the litter associated with them, by encouraging people to re-use bags.
Before the charge was introduced on 5 October 2015, over 7.6 billion single-use carrier bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England during 2014. That’s around 140 bags per person, the equivalent of about 61,000 tonnes in total.
They take longer than other bags to degrade in the environment, can damage wildlife, and are extremely visible when littered in our towns, parks and the countryside.
Despite research showing that the average household already had 40 plastic bags around the home, the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014.
The major supermarkets supplied just 564 million single-use carrier bags in 2019-20, a reduction of over 7.4 billion bags compared to 2014.
Since we introduced the scheme, the number of bags used has gone down by more than 95% in England. A total of nearly £180m has also been raised for good causes from the revenue collected.
Similar charges are also in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
By increasing the charge to 10p and extending this to all retailers, we estimate that over the next 10 years the benefits of the scheme will include:
- an expected overall benefit of over £331 million to the UK economy
- an overall reduction of 21% in the number of carrier bags supplied across all bag types (single-use carrier bags, bags for life, paper bags, cotton tote bags and bin liners)
- reduce the number of single-use carrier bags issued by small and medium retailers by 80%
5. How the proceeds are being used
This is not a tax and the money from the charge does not go to the government.
We expect retailers to give the proceeds of the scheme to good causes, but it is for them to choose what to do, and which causes to support. We ask retailers to report to us each year about what they do with the money from the charge.
During the year from 7 April 2019 to 6 April 2020, almost two-thirds of retailers told us they gave over £9.2 million to good causes.
6. Results from the scheme
The single-use carrier bag charge has made a big difference. Since we introduced the scheme, the number of bags sold by major supermarkets has gone down by more than 95% in England.