Shoppers will have to pay 5p for plastic bags at all retailers in England, the Prime Minister Theresa May has announced.
Currently, the 5p plastic bag charge only applies to retailers with 250 employees or more. Since its introduction in October 2015, this has led to nine billion fewer plastic bags being used, according to the government.
However, despite the government announcing plans to extend this scheme to all retailers, a date for the change has yet to be set.
The change only applies to England, as Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland introduced their own plastic bag charges in 2011, 2013, and 2014, respectively.
Commenting on the announcement, Pippa Tyrell of local environmental group Transition Wilmslow, says: “What most seem to forget is that people are not paying the 5p plastic bag charge; plastic bag use has dropped by 85%.
“Consumers are doing what their parents used to do and taking their own shopping bags with them. Once people have bought their own refillable coffee cup or water bottle they just need to take it with them every time and will never have to pay these charges. Ultimately the ‘tax’ is just a way of changing behaviour for the good.”
Jo Salter, founder of social enterprise WhereDoesItComeFrom, adds: "Plastic waste in the UK has reached crisis point so it's really good news that the 5p charge on plastic bags is being extended. The charge is already leading to massive reductions in plastic bags, with people bringing their own bags or reusing plastic bags.”
Plastic waste to be eliminated by 2042
The extension of the plastic bag charge is part of a larger government drive to improve the UK’s environmental impact, dubbed the “25 Year Environment Plan”, under which the government intends to eliminate all avoidable plastic waste by the end of 2042.
Under this initiative, the Prime Minister has signalled a desire to work with supermarkets to introduce plastic-free aisles, where all the food is loose.
The announcement also sets out plans to increase the number of public water fountains, while a government working group will respond to an evidence call on reward and return schemes for drinks containers this Spring.
Environment secretary Michael Gove comments: “Respecting nature’s intrinsic value and making sure we are wise stewards of our natural world is critical if we are to leave the environment in a better state than we inherited it.
“Our Environment Plan sets out how over the next 25 years we will radically reduce the waste that is choking oceans and rivers, cleanse our air of toxic pollutants and create new habitats for our most precious wildlife to thrive.
“Through this plan we will build on our reputation as a global leader in environmental protection, creating an environment everyone can enjoy and helping the next generation flourish.”
But Ms Salter warns: “I'm concerned that the government's goal to eradicate all avoidable plastic waste in the UK by 2042 is far too long term and vague. That date will allow for procrastination and will not address the serious challenges that we are facing right now.
“By avoiding any legislation, the government is not showing any serious commitment to the reforms. It is good to hear Michael Gove condemning the throwaway culture, we just need to see some action behind the words."