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Five top things you need to know about the carrier bag charges

It may be seen by some as just another environmental tax, however the carrier bag charges coming into effect in England next month are, according to Defra, necessary to “protect our environment from litter and pollution”.

Back in 2014, the major supermarkets in England distributed over a staggering 7.6 billion plastic bags, an increase of 233 million on 2013.

Defra say that the new 5p charge could reduce this amount by up to 80%. The introduction of the same charge in Wales has seen a reduction of 71% since 2011. In Scotland, the charge resulted in a 22% (147 million bags) drop despite the levy only being in place for the final 11 weeks of 2014.

With this reduction Defra expect to see an overall benefit of up to £730 million raised for good causes, £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs and carbon savings of around £13 million, as well as boost to the economy.

The charge comes into play next month on 5 October.

Here is what you need to know to stay ahead of the game:

  1. You only need to comply with the charge if you are a retailer with 250 or more employees. This is to reduce the administrative burden on small and medium sized businesses, however they can charge on a voluntary basis if they so wish.

  2. Bags to be charged for must be unused, plastic, have handles and be 70 microns or less.

  3. There are several exemptions where bags have certain uses, such as for uncooked fish and meat, being made from paper or for services (e.g. dry cleaning). You can read the full list here.

  4.  You must send details to Defra once a year on;

a) the number of bags you distributed

b) the amount of money you received from selling bags

c) any VAT you paid on the money received for the bags

d) what you did with the proceeds

e) details of “reasonable costs”. These are costs incurred to comply with the legislation, such as changing till systems, training staff, administering donations to good causes and getting expert advice. It is expected that these costs will reduce after the first year of complying.

Reporting will be done on an annual basis with the first reporting period taking place from 5 October 2015 to 6 April 2016, and then from 7 April to 6 April the following year from 2016 onwards.

  1. Proceeds from the bags should be donated to good causes; the money doesn’t go to the government, hence not making it a tax.

You can find more detailed guidance from Defra here. If you have any queries don’t hesitate to get in touch with the ecosurety team at packaging@ecosurety.com or on 0845 094 2228.


Robbie Staniforth

Head of policy

Having gained a wealth of experience in regulatory affairs, waste issues and secondary commodity market analysis, Robbie uses his skills internally as an operational board member and externally to influence legislation change as head of policy. He is responsible for liaising with government, regulators and industry organisations to articulate complex views and interests and to provide high-level policy expertise, industry insight and market analysis to our members.


Written by Robbie Staniforth Published 14/09/2015 Topics Sustainability

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