UK’s Plastic Bag Sales Down 90% Since Ban

“The shift is equivalent to every person in England using 10 bags in the most recent year, compared to 140 bags in 2014.”

Retailers across the UK are reporting staggering drops in the sale of single-use plastic bags, signaling a change in customer behaviour after a 5-pence charge was implemented across major retailers.

The figures come from the seven biggest retailers in the U.K., Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose, and were cited by the government’s environment secretary recently to signal customer demand for more environmental considerations from their retailers.

For context, England introduced legislation that mandated organisations with more than 250 employees to charge customers 5-pence for each plastic bag they required; the legislation is optional for small-sized businesses. According to NPR, “the claim of a 90% reduction comes from comparing the 7.6 billion single-use bags that England’s main retailers issued in 2014- the last full year before the bag fee took effect- to the most recent number of 549 million.”

“A powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.” Theresa Villiers.

“No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife,” Theresa Villiers, the Environmental Secretary said, adding that the results represent “a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.”

The plastic bag ban was the first step in a raft of sweeping changes introduced by the UK government, which has moved to implement a ban on single-use plastics like straws and plastic cutlery in an attempt to cut down on waste entering waterways and the ocean.

Money raised from the bag tax, rather than go directly to the government has been directed towards charities, at the request of the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs who said “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.”

The U.K. environmental agency also confirmed that the retailers had used the fees raised from the bag tax to donate “around £169 million toward charities and other good causes since the charge was introduced [in 2015].”

According to an interview with Rebecca Taylor, an Australian researcher at the University of Sydney, NPR is reporting that “after studying the effects of plastic bag regulations, Taylor said she believes fees are more efficient in helping the environment than outright bans on plastic shopping bags - in part because bans force people who would normally reuse their bags for picking up dog waste or holding trash to instead buy heavier and bigger bags like garbage bags.”

“What I found was that sales of garbage bags actually skyrocketed after plastic grocery bags were banned,” she said.

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