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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

Innovation and policy director

Robbie is innovation and policy director at Ecosurety. Having spent years building an intimate understanding of the industry’s policies and politics, he uses this knowledge to help shape new legislation and oversees Ecosurety’s growing portfolio of cross-industry innovation projects including Podback and the Flexible Plastic Fund. He has worked closely with Defra during the most recent packaging consultations, outlining the impacts and required transitional arrangements of the UK’s new EPR system and is a member of the government’s Advisory Committee on Packaging (ACP). He is also a spokesperson for the company and regularly uses his influence to communicate the importance of environmental responsibility to external stakeholders.


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

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