The impact of single use carrier bags
In 2014 British shoppers took 8.5 billiion single use carrier bags from major supermarkets.
All types of carrier bag, whether made from plastic, paper or jute, have some environmental impact, whether from the manufacturing process, transportation or final disposal. Plastic carrier bags use 70% less plastic than they did 20 years ago, but are still made from polyethylene (PE), which is made from oil. Energy is also used in the manufacturing process. When plastic carrier bags are put in landfill sites they may take hundreds of years to break down and bags can also end up as litter in the countryside, rivers or the sea, where they can pose a threat to wildlife. Animals can easily get entangled in plastic bags or they may even be mistaken for food.
Reduce and reuse
The best approach is to reduce the amount of ‘single use’ carrier bags that we use. Some supermarkets will give store card points for bringing your own bags, so look out for ‘bags for life’ or other types of reusable bag that will last more than one trip.
If you find you’ve forgotten to reuse your carrier bags and have a lot of single use bags at home you can recycle them. In north London we accept plastic (carrier) bags for recycling in your doorstep recycling service or, if you live on an estate, in the shared recycling containers on-site. As long as your carrier bags are emptied, untied and don’t contain other recyclable material we can recycle them. Some supermarkets also provide collection points for you to take your bags back for recycling.
Carrier bag charges
As so many carrier bags are used only once, many countries have either already introduced or are planning to introduce charges for single-use carrier bags to encourage people to reuse their bags.
On 5 October 2015 the Government introduced new rules to reduce the consumption of plastic bags. All retailers with 250 (or more) full time employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for each single use plastic carrier bag that they provide.
Money from the charge goes to charitable causes. The Government expects the charge will raise around £70million for charity, which shops will donate directly. However, the Environmental Audit Committee which has been reviewing the proposals wants the £19 million that will be raised as VAT from the charge to go to environmental good causes too.
During 2015, we ran a new project - bag it up + reuse - in partnership with north London businesses to encourage customers of smaller shops to reuse their bags. Smaller retailers will be exempt from introducing the new charges.
Other bag charges
Wales introduced a 5p charge for new single use carrier bags in 2011. The number of bags being used has dropped by 96% in some areas.
In Northern Ireland a 5p levy was introduced in 2013. Usage has dropped by 80% and there are now plans to raise the levy to 10p because it is working so well.
Scotland introduced a 5p fee for all single use bags in October 2014.
The Irish Republic introduced its 15 cent plastic bag tax in 2002. It has since gone up to 22 cents and there has been around a 90% drop in single bag use.