The number of single-use plastic bags sold by the big supermarkets in England has dropped more than 95% since the 5p charge was introduced in 2015, figures show.
Data from the Department for Environment Food & Rural Affairs (Defra) shows the main retailers sold 226 million single-use bags in the past financial year, 322 million fewer than in 2018/19.
That is a drop of 59% in a year, with the average person now buying four bags on average, compared to 10 last year and 140 in 2014.
Before the 5p charge was introduced in 2015, an estimated 7.6 billion bags a year were handed out by the leading supermarkets.
Across all retailers of more than 250 employees who must apply the charge to their plastic bags and small businesses who reported voluntarily, 564 million bags were sold in the latest financial year, compared to 1.11 billion in 2018/19.
The Government has been consulting on whether to extend the charge to all businesses and increasing the minimum price for single use bags to 10p, and says the response to the consultation will be published “in due course”.
Environment Secretary George Eustice said it was “encouraging” to see the drop in such a “short space of time”.
“We have all seen first-hand the devastating impact that plastic bags have on the environment, littering our beautiful countryside and threatening the world’s marine life,” he said.
“I am committed to driving this progress further and I hope this continues to inspire similar action across the globe.”
However, environmental campaign group Greenpeace has warned of rising sales of more expensive ‘bags for life’, which are intended for reuse but which contain more plastic than the single use carrier bags do.
Sam Chetan Welsh, political campaigner at Greenpeace, called on the Government to increase the cost of the ‘bags for life’ which he says led to the decreased sales in the Republic of Ireland or to ban them altogether.
He also called for reductions in plastic packaging across every aisle of the supermarket as well as at check-outs.
“Whilst today’s figures are a step in the right direction, the Government shouldn’t congratulate itself too much until this hard work is done,” he said.
As a result of the charge, £178 million has been donated to charitable causes, with £9.2 million donated in the last year alone.
The UK government has also assured that its ban on the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds will go ahead despite delaying it until October due to the coronavirus pandemic.
From April 2022, the government has said it will introduce a new “world-leading” tax on plastic packaging which does not meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2020, subject to consultation.
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