/ Money, Shopping, Travel & Leisure

New plastic bag charges for England – are you happy to pay?

plastic bags

People in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland have been paying for plastic bags for some time and now England is joining in. In this guest contribution, Which? Convo regular John Ward asks ‘will it work?’

From Monday 5 October 2015 it will become compulsory for shops with more than 250 workers overall to charge for plastic bags, so most of the high street stores are covered.

It won’t apply to franchises and shops in a ‘symbol’ group if the franchise holder or symbol trader has fewer than 250 staff, even if the overall group has a larger number. Shops that don’t have to charge can do so if they want to (and can do what they like with the money) and shops can charge more if they want to.

Plastic bag charges: the finer details

So far, so good – but there’s more. A lot more. The levy applies to single use carrier bags. These are defined as ‘unused, plastic, with handles, and 70 microns thick or less’. The finer details are set out in government advice to retailers if you can bear to read them.

Government officials must have had a great time concocting this particular set of rules and making sure nothing would slip through a hole in the regulations.

For ‘bags for life’ it explains what counts as a ‘returnable multiple-reuse bag’. It’s too nerdy to repeat in full, but they’re exempt if at least 5p is charged for them and they are replaced free of charge when worn out. The rules also make it clear that gussets don’t count in the dimensions, nor do the handles unless they are on wavy top bags. I’m so glad they went the extra mile on that.

There’s also a whole list of items that shops won’t have to charge for (including uncooked meat, fish, unwrapped food, dry cleaning, rhyzomes, axes, and live aquatic creatures in water). They’ve thought of everything messy, and they’ve even got some rules for shops that put the cornflakes in with the rhyzomes (must charge, if you’re interested).

Home deliveries and click-&-collect services will be required to comply and the major supermarkets will likely charge an average of 40p per home delivery. You can opt for no bags – but your groceries will be loose in the totes.

The benefits of playing for plastic bags

So why is this happening? Basically to discourage the use of plastic, which consumes fossil fuels during manufacturing and leads to a lot of litter after use. Defra says:

‘In 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s something like 140 bags per person, equivalent to 61,000 tonnes in total. They take longer than other bags to degrade in the environment, can damage wildlife, and are extremely visible when littered in our towns, parks and the countryside.’

They also interfere with watercourses and are harmful to wildfowl, aquatic mammals and other creatures. It’s estimated that over the next 10 years the benefits will include:

  • An overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy
  • Up to £730 million raised for good causes
  • £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs
  • Carbon savings of £13 million

Retailers are ‘expected’ to donate the proceeds from the sale of plastic bags to ‘good causes’ – but good causes are not necessarily the same as registered charities. The guidance makes clear that this is not a tax and that the money from the charge does not go to the government. It is for retailers to choose what to do, and which causes to support.

Retailers will need to report to Defra about what they do with the money from the charge, and this information will be published each year. The charge in Wales has already generated millions of pounds for good causes.

So will you willingly pay the new charges on 5 October, knowing that your money is going to some ‘good causes’? Or would you rather things stay as they are and leave it up to the shopper to take a reusable bag or not? I’m glad the charge is coming to England. In fact, I wish it had happened sooner.

This is a guest contribution by Which? Convo community member John Ward. He originally shared this idea in the Which? Convo Ideas lounge. All opinions are John’s own, not necessarily those of Which?

Are you happy to pay for plastic shopping bags in supermarkets?

Yes (63%, 1,750 Votes)

No (35%, 984 Votes)

Don't know (2%, 62 Votes)

Total Voters: 2,796

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The charge sounds like a laudable attempt to reduce the waste of plastic bags. But why are we so addicted to plastic in every aspect of our lives? As a society we use one-time only, plastic bottles, soup containers and other receptacles. Why can’t companies produce biodegradable containers? There are many available which prevent spillage. Plastic causes destruction to our wildlife, rivers and the oceans. It is time we got serious about this beyond a few plastic bags.


VEE- and plastic drinking bottles provide serious health risks to men.


While weeding my reading list I found this Defra report entitled ‘Review of standards for biodegradable plastic carrier bags’: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/485904/carrier-bag-biodegradable-report-2015.pdf

The problem is that most of the supposedly biodegradable bags are not broken down quickly enough and can cause mayhem in the environment.


I agree. we should concentrate on producing less waste, not allowing the same amount but making it biodegradable. That does not save increasingly scarce resources. And what value does this degraded plastic add to the landfill?


Laudable comment malcolm but why does the government not bring out laws to stop BB mail shots -literally TONS of paper mail goes through doors every day of the week . But hold on ,we are talking BB who run HMG . And dont tell me its all “sustainable ” mail want me to quote the Forrest,s ?? and the angry natives who live in them . And if you think it is please quote where it all comes from.


This includes junk from charities. I receive Christmas cards, drinks mats, memo pads, address stickers, pens and begging letters from them (not every week though!). This is expensive “marketing” where presumably the cost is exceeded by the donations it recovers (a bit like Which?’s peculiar advertising on the tv perhaps – what is it all about? They won’t tell). It does not seem right that they operate in this way.

And while we’re about it, the only newspaper I buy is the Saturday DT, mainly for the tv guide, motoring and money sections, certainly not the (lack of news-)paper. But out of the total weight of 1535g, the bit I use is 221g – just 14%. Newspapers should pay a weight tax.

Compare this with a fact-filled Which? collection this month – 407g, and a very informative and entertaining Private Eye weighing in at just 79g.

A War on Waste! (Not original like Keep Britain tidy, but appropriate 🙂 )


I like it malcolm.


I meet and I speak to our postman and we cannot refuse to take the rubbish
Whether he would be in trouble or not I dont know but he is expected to deliver endless nationwide company adds and local Spar etc where we never go flyers
Why should we have to take this stuff. . .Why can we not be allowed to say NO MORE
It’s just filling up the recycle boxes and the fact we send it to recycling is not the answer. . It took loads of energy to produce, ,print and transport what to me is rubbish
I dont want to argue with the postmen as they are very good and they are only doing their job so are in”that position”
I already understand that a postman must deliver what he has to deliver