5 Oct 2015

5p plastic bag charge: what do you need to know?

The government’s mandatory 5p charge for plastic bags comes in on Monday. So how will it affect you and will it work?

Which bags will cost 5p?

The charge is on “single use” bags. The ones handed out in supermarkets. The new law stipulates that bags which are unused, have handles and are 70 micrometres thick or less.

It will not apply to bags for life as they are thicker – but they tend to cost money anyway.

Smaller bags – such as those that Marks and Spencer hands out for free when you buy a sandwich – will also be subject to the charge.

What will I put my veg in?

Bags, even if they have handles, which are provided for unwrapped food, raw meat, fish, prescription medicines and for seeds, bulbs and flowers are exempt from the charge.

But beware – if you put a wrapped item into one of these bags the charge kicks in.

Is it just the food shop?

No. All retailers with over 250 employees will have to charge 5p per bag – so it might be worth taking some used ones next time you go on a shopping spree.

Online shops

Asda, Sainsbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco offer bagless delivery or a 40p flat rate regardless of the number of bags. Morrisons and Ocado will charge 5p a bag.

Where will you have to pay?

The new rules only apply to stores with over 250 employees, so your local newsagent will still be able to give you a plastic bag.

However some stores, including Londis, Budgens, Spar, One Stop and Landmark Costcutter are expected to encourage their independent retailers to add the fee for bags taken at the till despite not being legally required to do so.

The Association of Convenience Stores said 16% of its members from village stores to newsagents also planned to charge.

Why are plastic bags a problem?

In 2014 7.6bn bags were given out by major supermarket chains. That works out at 140 bags per person. The government says the charge will decrease their use by 80 per cent and £60 million less will be spent clearing up litter every year.

Does it work?

Free plastic bags have been banned in Ireland for over 12 years. According to the Department of Environment secretary general John McCarthy the levy has reduced plastic bag use by 95 per cent. The plastic bags that are used and paid for has netter the exchequer £9m a year.

The measure has been so successful that plastic bags are even more expensive there – currently 22 cents, 16p, per bag.

In England Marks and Spencer have been charging 5p for larger, stronger bags since 2007 and have seen a 50 per cent reduction in the bags used across its food and drink ranges.

Where will the money go?

Most chains have said that they will give the money to charity, with environmental charities being popular.

Of every 5p charged, 0.83p will be VAT. The Treasury says it expects to make £19m a year from the charge.