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How the 5p plastic bag charge is making a real impact in our fight against climate change

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Hollie Richardson
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Plastic bags

Swapping plastic bags for your favourite canvas tote bag is actually helping the environment during the climate crisis, new research had found. 

The high street is finally taking responsibility for the contribution it’s made to the climate crisis.

Last month, Boots announced that it is banning plastic bags. It came a few weeks after Waitrose trialled a packaging-free aisle in one of its supermarkets. And Holland & Barrett has banned selling wet wipes from all of its 800 stores around the UK and Ireland.

With global warming being at a critical point, these steps are more urgent than ever. And new figures released today show that these kinds of steps mean we’re headed in the right direction

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New government data has found that there was a 47% decrease of plastic bag sales among the seven main retailers in England (Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose) between 2018 and 2019. They collectively saw sales of 549 million single-use plastic carrier bags, compared to 1 billion between 2017 and 2018. This is a huge decrease of 490 million bags.

The research also found that sales of plastic bags across all retailers in England dropped by more than a third (37%) between 2017 and 2018. 

And, based on previous data from The Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) cited in the government report, the total number of plastic bags being used by retailers has decreased by 90% since 2014. This was a year before the 5p charge was brought into action.

The average person in England now buys 10 bags a year, compared with 140 bags in 2014 before the 5p charge was introduced. 

The Department for Food Environment and Rural Affairs announced that Sainsbury’s, Asda, Tesco, Morrisons, Waitrose, Co-op, and Marks and Spencer sold 549 million single use plastic carrier bags in England between 2018 and 2019. This is down from one billion over the previous 12 months.

Plastic bags
Plastic bags are a huge part of the climate crisis, but the 5p charge is working.

Environmentalists have welcomed the promising news. 

Greenpeace campaigner Fiona Nicholls told iNews: “It’s been nearly a year since the government pledged to extend the bag charge to all retailers. Customers are clearly happy to bring their own bag, so we urge the new environment secretary to get on with it and finish the job.”

Julian Kirby of Friends of the Earth added: “What an amazing difference good legislation makes. Five pence really is a small price to pay to see this massive reduction in plastic bags that used to blight the countryside and clog up waterways, with horrific resultant damage to marine life.”

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The new environment secretary, Theresa Villiers, has said: “Our comprehensive action to slash plastic waste and leave our environment in a better state continues to deliver results, with our 5p charge reducing plastic bag sales by 90% in the big supermarkets.

“No one wants to see the devastating impact plastic waste is having on our precious wildlife. Today’s figures are a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society.”

Images: Getty

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Hollie Richardson

Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…