October 19, 2015, by Helen Whitehead

Coping with the carrier bag charge

How are shoppers coping after Monday 5th October when they started being asked to pay around 5p per single-use carrier bag in shops in England? Charges are already routine in Wales (since October 2011), Northern Ireland (since April 2013) and Scotland (since October 2014). The scheme is intended to protect the environment from the number of plastic carrier bags used and abandoned in the UK each year. Some councils and shops recycle plastic, but the majority still end up in landfill where they may take hundreds of years to break down. This law may be a sustainability triumph, as evidence in Wales, Scotland and NI has already proved.

The new rule applies to any retail or delivery business. It even applies to online deliveries (where you can’t really provide your own bags). Most suppliers now offer “bagless delivery” – it comes in crates, and the driver (or you) unpacks them and take the crates back – or a charge of typically 40p per delivery if using bags.

Oddly there are a lot of exceptions, including uncooked fish and meat, unwrapped food that could leak, loose seeds and other plant parts, unwrapped razor blades (can you BUY unwrapped razor blades?), prescription medicine and live fish. Also it’s optional for shops with fewer than 250 members of full-time staff (so really only applies to the big supermarkets and chains). Small businesses can choose to levy the charge but do not have to, which may be confusing, especially if one shop charges while their competitor does not.

So how are you coping? Do you have a similar charge or initiative in your country? Do you think you should have one?

While I’ve been taking “bags for life” to the supermarket for a long time, I also make sure I have a couple of plastic or fabric bags folded small in my handbag for those small impulse purchases. M&S are selling a reusable bag in partnership with UNICEF that has been designed by Barbara Hulanicki. Could be this season’s must-have…

More advice

The eco guide to plastic bags from The Guardian

13 ways to re-use your old plastic bags from BT.com

The University of Nottingham MOOC Sustainability, Society and You starts on November 2nd and you can sign up now for free on the FutureLearn website.

Posted in EnvironmentFoodsustainable lifestylewaste