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5p charge for carrier bags comes into effect today


As of today, supermarkets will be charging 5p for plastic carrier bags throughout the UK in an attempt to reduce litter and protect wildlife. Although this appears to be a simple transition, employees and management at supermarkets are braced for chaos, as they fear a complex list of exemptions to the rule could cause arguments amongst customers and staff.

Special training

Cashiers have even undergone specialised training to help them deal with confused and argumentative customers who refuse to pay the 5p charge for a carrier bag or don’t understand the rules. These rules include giving customers free bags if they are buying raw meat, loose fruit and vegetable or razor blades.

Critics have said that these exemptions may cause more confusion and anger amongst shoppers and claim that the predicted 70% reduction in carrier bags issues at till will not become a reality.

1p VAT 4p Charity

In addition to this, George Osborne has caused outrage after insisting that 1p of the charge goes to the Treasury as VAT, whilst the other 4p will go to charities.

Meanwhile, although environmentalists have celebrated the carrier bag charge they are also concerned about the complicated scheme. Under the scheme, all retailers with 150 more full-time employees will charge a minimum of 5p for bags both in stores and deliveries, however small shops and paper bags are exempt. The Government hopes to see the use of single-use carrier bags fall by 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street. They also expect to save £60 million in clean-up costs, whilst generated £730 million for charities.


Many shoppers in England support the initiative, with 62% describing the charge as reasonable. This is a 6% rise since a poll for the Break the Bag Habit poll in 2012. Around 51% of those surveyed supported a more comprehensive scheme that extended the charge to all retailers.

However, campaigners have warned that the scheme may not be very successful in comparison to other schemes introduced to certain parts of the UK, for example in Wales where the number of bags issued fell by 79% in the first three years.

Forgetting to re-use

Environment minister Rory Stewart said: ‘We’re all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us next time we go to the shops.

‘But the more bags we take, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside, and damaging our wildlife and marine environments.

‘Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country.’

Good news for marine life

Dr Sue Kinsey, of the Marine Conservation Society, said: ‘The 5p charge is good news for marine life as it will reduce beach litter levels – but could end up being a shambles for shoppers who won’t know what to expect from one shop to another.”

Mike Mitchelson, of the National Federation of Retail Newsagents, said: ‘Excluding small shops is unnecessary, will confuse customers’. The British Retail Consortium’s Andrew Opie said: ‘The carrier bag charge for England is unnecessarily complicated and not consistent with the simple approach taken elsewhere in the UK. Consequently, the charge will not deliver the same environmental impact.’ There are already examples of customers not understanding the rules.


Tesco Staff at a branch in Eastville, Bristol feared the rules would cause ‘bedlam’, whilst in Bristol shop assistant Barbara Howell, 57, said: ‘We have had signs up for weeks warning about the new law.

‘I think it will be a good thing. We all take it fo ‘granted that we can just get free bags and not reuse them. I’ve been saving up my bags.’

Last year, the number of bags issued in major supermarket reached more than 7.6 billion, that’s 140 per person and 61,000 tons.

Baskets stolen

There are worries that the charge could lead to more supermarket baskets being stolen. Russell Holland, from retail security specialist Checkpoint Systems, said: ‘When the 5p charge was introduced in Wales, over the course of a year, one major store had almost 500 stolen.

‘And in preparation for nationwide launch, one UK basket manufacturer recently told me that they had received an order for more than 60,000 wire baskets from one of Britain’s largest grocery retailers.

‘While I agree that the bag levy is key to reducing waste, what’s being overlooked is the cost to the environment of manufacturing the thousands of new baskets that will be ordered over the coming years.’



About Siobhan Harmer

About Siobhan Harmer

Siobhan Harmer is an English Freelance writer who drinks far too much coffee!!

Website: Siobhan Harmer

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