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England introduces the 5p charge for plastic bags – will it make a difference?

12 Oct 2015


On the 5th October 2015 England has introduced a 5p charge for plastic bags. With this move the government hopes the shoppers will either reduce their use of plastic bags, or will re-use old ones. While the money will go to shopowners who are expected to fund environmental schemes, this charge will only apply to stores which has 250 or more full-time workers.


But why is this an important change and how will it help the environment?


  • About eight million tonnes of plastic waste are added to the ocean every year.

  • It takes about 20 to 1000 years for a plastic bag to decompose.

  • Once exposed to the sun, a plastic bag will break down into smaller and smaller pieces.

  • A study published in October 2014 showed that over 5 trillion pieces of plastic weighing over 250,000 tonnes are floating on the surface of the oceans.

  • The volume of plastic pieces (less than 1mm in length) is over 1000 times higher in the deep sea sediments than on the sea surface.

  • In England the number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets in 2014 was 7.64 billion.

  • In 2010 it was 6.3 billion.

  • In the River Thames some 400 tonnes of rubbish are being caught annually, and the volume of rubbish increasing every year indicating that discarded plastic is on the rise.

  • Up to three-quarters of fish sampled from the River Thames have been found to have plastic fibres in their gut.


Since the charge was introduces in Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland figures show that there has been a 70% to 90% decrease in the number of bags given out. On the one hand, the English government expects that the charge for plastic bags will save £60 million in litter clean-up costs and £13 in carbon savings, on the other hand, environmentalist hope that the amount of pollution entering waterways will reduce.



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