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ALL shops in England must charge 10p for plastic bags from 21 May

image of person carrying shopping in plastic bags

The fee retailers charge for single-use plastic carrier bags is to double from 5p to 10p in England from Friday (21 May), while those making purchases in smaller shops will also now have to pay the charge. Here's how to cut costs and save plastic.  

Since its introduction in 2015, the single-use carrier bag charge has only applied to shops in England which employ more than 250 people, but it will now be extended to all shops regardless of size. The move comes after a public consultation in 2019 found the "vast majority" of respondents would welcome an increase of the charge to 10p.

The Government says it expects usage of single-use carrier bags to decrease by 70% to 80% in small and medium-sized shops as a result. It adds that it has seen a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets since 2015. Retailers are expected to donate money they collect from plastic bag charges to good causes, after deducting their own costs. 

All shops in Wales and Northern Ireland charge a minimum of 5p for plastic bags, while all shops in Scotland already charge 10p, after the rules changed last month. See our 26 Ways to Go Green and Save Cash guide for tips on how to cut costs and make money reducing, reusing and recycling.

How to use less plastic and save cash

Here are a few ways you can minimise your plastic use and cut the cost of using it:

  • Bring your own bag (obviously). Of course the easiest way to avoid the 10p charge and minimise plastic use is simply to bring your own bag with you when shopping. It can be any brand. You can also keep hold of the smaller mesh bags that some fruit and veg come in and reuse them when buying loose fruit and veg.

  • Consider a bag for life. Some supermarkets, such as Sainsbury's, sell real 'bags for life' – ie, bags they'll replace for free if damaged or broken.  

  • Ask for a bag made from another material instead - in England and Wales, the charge doesn't apply to non-plastic bags. There's no minimum charge for paper bags in England and Wales, for example, or bags with no handles or bags which have previously been used. Just bear in mind these rules can differ around the UK though - for example, in Scotland, paper bags and some bags made from plant-based materials incur a fee, while all bags in Northern Ireland incur a fee regardless of what they're made from. 

    It's also worth noting there's no minimum charge anywhere in the UK if you're using a single-use plastic bag for the following items - though shops can still choose to charge, and obviously you'll still be using plastic:

    - Uncooked fish, meat and poultry.
    - Unwrapped food, such as chips, or food in containers likely to leak.
    - Loose seeds, bulbs and flowers.
    - Items, such as potatoes with soil on them, plants and roots (eg, items such as ginger).
    - Services such as dry cleaning or shoe repairs.
    - Unwrapped blades.
    - Medicinal items from a pharmacy. 
  • Sell your single-use bags back to supermarkets. Morrisons, for example, currently pays 5p for its own bags. The total value of the bags is deducted from the cost of your current online order. Similarly, Ocado pays 5p for its own bags, deducting the total value from the cost of your current order up to a maximum of 99 bags at a time.
  • Make your own bag from recycled materials.You could try fashioning a tote bag from an old T-shirt

  • Go large in the supermarket to save on packaging and price. Economies of scale rarely lie – generally, the more you buy of something, the less it will cost you per unit. But it also usually involves less packaging relative to the size of the item you're buying, and you may be able to carry the item on its own without needing any plastic bag.

    So if you can afford to buy and have the space to store larger packs of staples, such as washing powder, toilet roll and washing-up liquid, it can be worth it.

See our 26 Ways to Go Green and Save Cash guide for more top tips.

What does the Government say?

Environment minister Rebecca Pow said: "The introduction of the 5p charge has been a phenomenal success, driving down sales of harmful plastic bags in supermarkets by a remarkable 95%. We know we must go further to protect our natural environment and oceans, which is why we are now extending this charge to all businesses."

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