Bag for Life?

It might be time to change!


Posted on: 19/05/2015   By: Lee Rance

This week’s blog is on a similar theme to last week’s about waste and recycling but I thought it would be an interesting and informative topic for a blog.

From 5th October 2015 retailers in England with 250 or more employees will be obliged to charge 5p for a single use carrier bag with the introduction of the ‘Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015’.

Carrier Bags



















In implementing this Order, it is hoped that litter created from carrier bags will lessen as their use will decrease and people will be encouraged to use re-usable carrier bags. However, this order will only continue until 2022.

The criteria for the bags that retailers must charge for are:

  • unused – it’s new and hasn’t been used previously for sold goods to be taken away or delivered
  • plastic
  • with handles
  • 70 microns thick or less

According to WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme) 8.1 billion (single-use) bags were used by supermarket customers in the UK in 2012. That is nearly 130 bags for everyone in the UK. It was an increase of 1.3% on the previous year but a decrease of 34% compared with 2006.

Many larger supermarkets accept carrier bags for recycling with collection points for used carrier bags normally found near the main entrances of the stores. The delivery drivers for the supermarkets also collect carrier bags after dropping of the shopping for home deliveries. Some supermarkets offer ‘bag less’ deliveries in order to reduce the amount of plastic bags used and also offer incentives to customers to use re-usable bags.

Plastic bags contain 70% less plastic than they did 20 years ago, but they still contain PE (polyethylene) and without special treatment it is not readily biodegradable and can takes hundreds of years to breakdown. There are no exemptions for biodegradable bags but the government is considering an exemption to encourage development of a new, genuinely biodegradable, more environmentally friendly bag. This would be introduced as an amendment at a later date.

Wales introduced the 5p charge for single use carrier bags in 2011 and since then have seen an 81% reduction in the use of these bags with the revenue going to the Department of Environment. These figures give you an idea of the impact introducing the charge could have.

Small and medium size businesses (companies with less than 250 employees) have been exempt from the carrier bag charge in order to reduce the administrative burden on both start-up and growing businesses.

Companies that are included in the Order will need to record:

  • the number of bags supplied
  • the gross and net proceeds of the charge
  • any VAT in the gross proceeds
  • what they did with the proceeds from the charge
  • any reasonable costs and how they break down

This information will then need to be sent to DEFRA annually. Once reasonable costs have been deducted, it’s expected that all proceeds will be donated to good causes.

Local authorities have the power to inspect companies and to issue fines to companies that don’t comply new Order. Fines can be issued if companies:

  • don’t charge at least 5p for the appropriate bags
  • don’t keep records
  • don’t supply records
  • mislead on how they’re complying with the law

I think this Order is long overdue, although carrier bag usage has reduced by 34% in the last 9 years there are still billions being used every year with a large proportion of these ending up in landfill. If something is free it is always an easy option to use while adding just a small charge will, I believe, be enough of a deterrent.

If you would like any advice on environmental or health and safety issues, give us a call on 01908 632418 or send us an email.

Until next time.

Lee Rance.