Plastic bag use has plummeted in England since the introduction of a 5p charge last year, the government has said.
In the six months after the levy was brought in last October, 640 million plastic bags were used in seven major supermarkets in England, it says.
In 2014, the waste reduction charity Wrap estimated the same shops had used 7.64 billion bags over the full year.
If that trend were to continue over the year this would be a drop of 83%.
It follows the pattern seen in the rest of the UK since the introduction of charges for bags.
‘Life is safer’
Wales introduced a levy in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. They saw reductions in bag use of 76%, 71% and 80%, respectively, in the first year after the fee was established.
The charge means all retailers with more than 250 full-time employees are required to charge a minimum of 5p to customers for single-use, plastic carrier bags, but paper bags are exempt.
Over the six months since the charge was introduced, the government said:
- A total of 1.1 billion single-use carrier bags were sold by large retailers who registered and reported data
- The net proceeds from the levy came to £41.3m
- At least £29.2m was donated to good causes, such as environmental, education, health, arts, charity or voluntary groups
- Just over two-thirds of retailers voluntarily provided information on the amount donated and the type of good causes it spent the donations on
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said the reduction in the number of bags being used was “fantastic news”.
“It will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to break down in landfill sites.”
This reduction in plastic could benefit the environment, especially the oceans.
A report published in the journal Science in 2015 estimated that about eight million tonnes of plastic ends up in global waters each year.
Dr Sue Kinsey, from the UK’s Marine Conservation Society, said: “Every year we survey our beaches, and last year we found over 5,000 bags over one weekend.”
She said that birds and marine mammals ate plastic, and bags were also breaking down into smaller pieces and being consumed by tiny marine organisms.
However she said that England could do more to further reduce plastic pollution.
She said she wanted to see the exemption for small businesses on charging the levy removed.
“There’s no exemption in Scotland and Wales, for instance,” she told BBC News.
“If that exemption was removed, we’d see even more plastic bags removed from the environment, which has only got to be good news.”
But extending the 5p charge would be too much of an administrative burden for smaller businesses, the government has previously said.
Meanwhile, Andrew Pendleton from climate change action group Friends of the Earth said plastic bags were only part of the problem.
He said that attention should now turn to the “millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfill, and to oversized boxes and excess packaging as a by-product of online shopping”.
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