Number of single-use bags handed out dropped to 500m in first six months since charge, compared with 7bn the previous year
The number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers in England has plummeted by more than 85% after the introduction of a 5p charge last October, early figures suggest.
More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but this figure plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
The data is the government’s first official assessment of the impact of the charge, which was introduced to help reduce litter and protect wildlife – and the expected full-year drop of 6bn bags was hailed by ministers as a sign that it is working.
The charge has also triggered donations of more than £29m from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups, according to Defra. England was the last part of the UK to adopt the 5p levy, after successful schemes in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included. There are also exemptions for some goods, such as raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, seeds and flowers and live fish.
Around 8m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the marine environment. Experts estimate that plastic is eaten by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.
The environment minister, Therese Coffey, said: “Taking 6bn plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us,. It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.