Plastic bag use has fallen dramatically since charging began | Credit: Creacart
The average person in England now buys just 10 single-use plastic bags a year, compared to 140 in 2014
English shoppers have slashed the number of plastic bags they use to less than a tenth of the volume recorded just five years ago, according to new government data today hailed by ministers as proof of the success of the five pence charge.
Between April 2018 and April 2019 English shoppers used just 1.11 billion plastic bags, compared to 2.12 billion in 2017/18 and more than seven billion in 2014, just before the 5p charge was introduced.
The average consumer in England now uses just 10 single-use carrier bags in a year from major retailers, compared to 140 in 2014, a fall of 90 per cent.
Newly-installed Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers hailed the news as proof the government is taking successful action to reduce plastic waste. “No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife,” she said in a statement. “Today’s figures are a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.”
The figures cover plastic bags issued by the UK’s seven major retailers: Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, The Co-operative Group, Waitrose, and Morrisons. All the main retailers recorded a fall in the number of bags sold last year, with Tesco and Morrisons reporting the largest reductions of 211 million and 118 million bags, respectively.
A number of businesses have vowed to remove single-use carrier bags from sale entirely. In June Boots announced plans to switch to paper bags in stores, while Iceland is trialling a plastic bag free store in Hackney, London, offering customers ‘extra strong’ paper bags for 15p each instead of plastic ‘bags for life’.
However, while the news was broadly welcomed by green groups the Renewable Energy Association (REA) today warned plastic waste still remains a major environmental problem, particularly in garden waste collections.
Every year the composting industry spend millions of pounds removing and disposing of plastic from garden waste collections, it said, warning that the issue is also impacting the quality of British compost.
“Whilst a huge step in the battle against contamination and single use plastics, the war is not yet over,” said Jeremy Jacobs, technical director at the REA. “Unwanted plastics are still prevalent in household garden waste collections and this is having a detrimental impact on the quality of composts. It is imperative that we apply the same pace of change to removing plastics in garden waste as we have in cutting single-use carrier bags.”