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The carrier bag charge – how will it work in England?

Nick Clegg recently announced the introduction of a carrier bag charge for English retailers. Scotland will be introducing the charge in October 2014 and it is already in force in Wales and Northern Ireland.

The charge is implemented differently in each territory. This article will be focusing on the charge in England.

The carrier bag charge – how will it work in England?

What is the carrier bag charge and why is it being introduced now?

There will be a 5 pence mandatory charge for all single use carrier bags given to customers in supermarkets and larger retailers.

The British Government estimates that over seven billion plastic bags were handed out by supermarkets alone during 2013. Many of these bags cause environmental pollution by ending up in landfill or creating a hazard to wildlife when they end up in the sea, rivers and countryside.

By introducing a plastic bag charge, the Government hopes that people will reduce the amount of plastic bags they use and reuse the bags they already have. This is backed up by evidence from Wales and Northern Ireland who have seen an 80% reduction in the number of  carrier bag issued since the charge was introduced.

Will the carrier bag charge effect all retailers?

The official government press release ‘Plastic Bags charge set to benefit the environment’  says “Small businesses with fewer than 250 employees will be exempt from the charge to ensure that they are not disproportionately burdened by the charges.”

So, small retailers won’t be effected at all. Large shops, supermarkets and chain stores will have to pass on a 5 pence charge for every single use carrier bag a customer takes.

How should you collect the charge and where will the money go?

It is thought that England will follow the Welsh model where retailers voluntarily donate the revenue to charity and the Government will be creating a voluntary code of practice for retailers to sign up to.

Retailers are free to choose whatever charity they wish, although the government has suggested that retailers donate to environmental charities.

Retailers will be required to set up a system for collecting and accounting for all revenue collected and donated to charity.

Marks & Spencer have charged 5p for bags in England since 2007.  They donate profits to the World Wildlife Fund, the Marine Conservation Society and other environmental projects. They also use the money for education projects for school children to promote awareness about marine life and conservation.

We are still waiting for full confirmation on the details of which single-use carrier bags will be included (ie just plastic or paper too?) and whether single use biodegradable bags will be exempt. We’ll update you as and when new details are released.

For  a more detailed look at what the carrier bag charge means to independent retailers in all territories, read our guest blog for bira “What does the plastic bag charge mean for independent retailers.”

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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