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The Lowdown on the UK’s 5p Plastic Bag Charge

“We’re livinggg in a material world and I am a material girl…”

Well Madonna, the materials are slowly but surely being sorted out! If you haven’t noticed, as of October 5th 2015, shoppers in the UK are being charged 5p for every plastic bag given out by supermarkets/large stores. The UK have been quite behind in implementing this change, but it is one that is much needed for our environment and resources.

As the BBC discusses the aim is to “cut the 7.6bn bags given to shoppers at major supermarkets every year, and retailers are expected to spend the money raised from the charge on good causes”. The latter is obviously dependent on the supermarket and as we know, [here comes the cynic], big corporations often have other plans or hidden agendas.

Astonishingly, last year witnessed 7 major supermarkets giving out over 7.6 billion plastic bags. This is a phenomenal, jaw dropping amount which the BBC equates to 140 per person and 61, 000 tonnes in total. Think of how many football pitches that could fill!

So, is this a welcome change?

Since this charge has been introduced I have heard a lot of mixed views, from colleagues to friends, to fellow food shoppers browsing the grocery aisles. Some people feel that if they buy something from the supermarket they expect to receive a bag [free of charge] to transport it home. People can’t always be expected to carry plastic bags around with them, can they?

On the other hand some people feel this initiative is well overdue and it will hopefully undo some of the damage we have inflicted upon our environment. As well as:

  • Save money clearing up litter
  • Save money in carbon savings
  • (Hopefully) reduce the number of animal related injuries and deaths with plastic bags

People may ‘umm and ‘ahh but the bottom line is plastic bags are not biodegradable and this is a problem (and always has been).

What do you think?

When will you have to pay for a bag?

The 5p charge only applies to shops with 250 or more full-time employees.

The Association of Convenience Stores, which represents over 33,500 local shops, reports that only 8,000 of these were planning to charge for plastic carrier bags. We may see this fluctuate in the next few months.

When will you not be charged for a bag?

Free bags are provided when buying uncooked meat, poultry or fish, prescription medicine, some fresh produce (flowers/potatoes), live aquatic creatures in water, and unwrapped ready-to-eat food such as chips.

Most home delivery services are also giving consumers an option to opt for a ‘bagless service’. Morrisons and Ocado in particular are still charging 5p per bag for deliveries but will return this cost when customers return the bags back to them to recycle.

Although it may still be confusing to know exactly when you will be expected to pay for a bag, this change will hopefully shift people’s way of thinking. It is early days and all changes require time. In my opinion, this will hopefully encourage people to look at their behaviours and promote sustainable actions. It isn’t hard to be prepared and have bags at the ready, whether that is kept in a handbag or in the boot of your car.

A resourceful and renewable outlook is one that we should transfer to other areas of our lives. Food waste, recycling etc. Sustainable living is something that needs to be practiced as well as preached and I am pleased to see this change. It is just a shame it takes a law to make obvious changes that benefit our world…


If you still haven’t got your bag’s worth, check out these interesting related articles:

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