Will the new plastic bag charge encourage greener ways in the UK?

October 6, 2015
2 min read

Many consumers do not think twice about putting their pint of milk into the plastic bags provided at the tills; however new laws requiring large retailers to charge 5p per plastic bag could see a shift in consumer mindset. Mintel’s Director of Retail Research Richard Perks explores the new charge and the potential repercussions…

The new legislation affects retailers with 250 or more staff within England. Exempt from the new rules are retailers operating within airports and train stations. Proceeds from the new law will be given to charity with retailers able to either pass the proceeds on to the Government or set up their own scheme for donating.

The introduction of the law means that the whole of the UK now operates a plastic bag charge, with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland already operating such schemes.

England is the last country of the United Kingdom to charge for carrier bags, and it’s about time, too. Mintel’s Waste Management UK 2015 report finds that the UK uses 5 million tonnes of plastics each year of which 2.4 million tonnes ends up in waste; 20% of that waste is from UK households, and one of the biggest single contributors is plastic carrier bags.

The vast majority of bags are used just once, so it makes sense to charge for them to encourage people to use their own bags. The trouble is that all the supermarkets started giving away bags as a marketing ploy and having started such a policy it is very hard to go back on it. Having said that, M&S has been charging for large bags for some time, and its sales have not noticeably suffered. But in order to encourage retailers to change there needed to be a change in the law. Encouragingly, Mintel’s research does show that in the first year after the levy was introduced in Northern Ireland, plastic bag usage fell by 72%.

Richard Perks is Director of Retail Research at Mintel where he advises clients, writes retail reports and presents webinars. Richard joined Mintel in 1999 and previously headed the Retail team, overseeing the content and strategy of the retail reports. He regularly provides analysis to the global media on retail issues. Before joining Mintel, Richard worked as a City analyst and as a journalist.

Richard Perks
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