Environment Minister Rebecca Pow has announced that the 5p plastic bag charge has been a phenomenal success. Her statement stems from the fact that the use of plastic bags in major supermarkets has dropped by 95% since the introduction of the 5p levy in 2015. The charge is now set to rise to 10p.
The 5p levy was introduced as a statutory requirement for large shops, especially those with 250 or more employees, but voluntary for smaller shops. The government hopes that by increasing the 5p plastic bag charge to 10p and extending it to small and medium-sized businesses, the use of single-use carrier bags across all stores will fall by 70-80%. Here’s what you need to know.
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What is the plastic bag charge?
The plastic bag charge is a levy imposed on single-use carrier bags to drive down their use. Plastic waste forms one of the most noticeable elements of pollution that damage natural habitats and puts land and marine life at risk.
To help combat plastic waste pollution, the government imposed a 5p levy on single-use carrier bags in England in 2015. However, from 21 May 2021, the levy will double to 10p to ramp up the war on plastic waste.
Do retailers have to charge for plastic bags?
Retailers could be fined if they don’t charge for plastic bags. Fines could be as high as £20,000.
From 21 May 2021, retailers must charge at least 10p (including VAT) for single-use plastic carrier bags that:
- Are new and unused
- Are plastic and 70 microns thick or less
- Have handles, an opening and are not sealed
Note that some bags are exempt from the charge. You can find a comprehensive list of bags that retailers are not required to charge for on the gov.uk website.
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Who has to charge for plastic bags?
The government is aiming to extend the 10p charge to small and medium-sized businesses. This means that retailers of all sizes (large, medium, small, micro and airport retailers) must charge at least 10p for single-use carrier bags in England from 21 May 2021. This applies to goods sold in England or delivered to England.
It’s worth noting that large retailers must record and report the number of single-use carrier bags they sell in England. Failure to record and report could lead to fines. Retailers don’t have to keep records or report carrier bag use if their business employs fewer than 250 staff. However, they can if they want to.
Retailers can use the guide on the gov.uk website to assess the size of their business. It will help them identify whether they have employed 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year. The reporting year runs from 7 April each year to 6 April in the following year.
What happens to the proceeds from plastic bag charges?
The government expects retailers to:
- Deduct reasonable costs (the cost of changing till systems, training staff, communicating the policy to staff and customers, getting expert advice and administering donations to good causes)
- Pay VAT (consider HM Revenue and Customs guidance on VAT)
- Donate the balance to good causes, particularly environmental causes
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