Official: Distribution of supermarket single-use plastic bags down 97 per cent

The single-use plastic bag charge has helped reduce the number of single-use plastic bags in supermarkets by 97 per cent since 2015, according to new analysis released today by the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra).

The initial 5p charge was introduced in UK supermarkets in 2015 and since then the number of single use plastic bags distributed retail by the country’s mainers has dropped by 97 per cent, the new official data reveals

Following the introduction of the charge, the average person in England now buys around three single-use carrier bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with using around 140 mainly free bags in 2014.

The charge was last year increased to 10p per plastic bag and extended to all UK retailers. According to the new analysis, the changes have helped to further reduce the number of plastic bags distributed down by more than 20 per cent, from 627 million in 2019/20 to 496 million in 2021/22.

“Our plastic bag charge has ended the sale of bills of single-use bags, protecting our landscapes and ensuring millions of pounds is redistributed to worthy causes,” said Environment Minister Steve Double.

“There is much more to do to tackle the problem of plastic waste. That is why we are building on our single-use plastic bans and introducing the deposit return scheme for bottles to fight back against littering and drive up recycling rates.”

to Defra, the number of single-use carrier bags reported by the main retailers stood at 197 million in 2021/22, down from 271 million in 2019/2020, the previous comparable year – reflecting a reduction of 27 per cent. Defra said the results represented a huge drop on the 7.6 billion bags used in 2014 before the charge was introduced.

In addition, retailers have donated more than £200m to good causes since the charge was introduced in 2015. In 2021/22, retailers donated £10m to good causes in education, arts, heritage, sports, environment, health, charity or volunteering sectors, or causes chosen by customers and staff.

Adam Herriot, sector specialist for resource management at waste charity WRAP, said that in addition to reducing the number of plastic bags in circulation there were also encouraging signs that more bags are now being recycled.

“Flexibles remain one of the most common plastics in our bins, but just like pots tubs and trays we’re now at a point where the tide is turning on flexible plastics,” he said. “Today, nearly 5,000 stores nationwide have front of store collections where people can drop off their unusable bags once they reach their end of life.

“So not only do we have less single-use shopping bags to worry about, we have somewhere convenient to put them when we go shopping to make sure they are recycled.”

The announcement is the latest in the government’s ongoing efforts to reduce plastic waste in the UK. Earlier this year, Ministers introduced a new plastic packaging tax and confirmed plans for a deposit return scheme, which Defra said would ensure ‘billions more’ drinks bottles and cans are returned to shops and recycled.

Plastic microbeads found in personal care products have also been banned, and the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds has been reduced, Defra added.

In addition, Defra said that consultations surrounding the ban of other single use plastics such as cutlery, plates, polystyrene cups and wet wipes are ongoing.

However, campaigners have consistently argued the government should move faster to introduce the long-awaited deposit return scheme and deliver on long-standing promises to streamline and standardise recycling services, given that recent data has shown that recycling rates and waste have largely flat- lined in recent years.

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