England’s Plastic Bag Tax Having Little Effect On Shoppers’ Behaviour

England’s 5p plastic bag tax should be increased to 20p or even higher, according to BigGreen.co.uk, which found the current price is having little affect on changing shoppers’ behaviour.

Two weeks into the English tax on single use plastic bags in supermarkets, ninety percent of shoppers are still heading out for their weekly shop forgetting their reusable bags, according to a survey conducted by BigGreen.co.uk.

With millions of carriers still being issued by major stores every day, the waste management company says that the levy should be increased to 20p or higher.

“We get through 7bn plastic bags every year,” says BigGreen.co.uk ‘s Johnny Ratcliffe, “and that number’s not going to go down unless people genuinely switch to reusable bags.”

BigGreen.co.uk – “It looks like we’re resistant as a country to such a small charge, and that’s why it should be at least 20p – or perhaps even higher”

The company says English shoppers won’t end their “habit” unless plastic bags are made “truly undesirable”.

It asked over 1500 shoppers about how their habits have changed in the first week of the 5p charge, and found:

  • 89% forgot their reusable bags, or didn’t have bags to begin with
  • 11% brought bags with them
  • 73% paid 5p per bag for one or more single-use bags
  • 21% bought reusable plastic or hessian bags at the till
  • 6% used no bags at all, or improvised

Figures released earlier this year show how successful the policy has been in other parts of the UK where the bag tax has been a reality for one or more years.

Scottish plastic bag use has decreased by 130m bags, or around 80% and in Wales plastic bag use has dropped by 71%, with overall bag use dropping by 57%.

Plastic bag use also has dropped from 190m bags to 30m per year in Northern Ireland.

“From what we’ve heard, the huge, huge majority of people are still putting their hands in their pockets and paying out the 5p,” Radcliffe says.

“That being the case, it looks like we’re resistant as a country to such a small charge, and that’s why it should be at least 20p – or perhaps even higher.”

“Bag For Life” Price Hike

Retailers in England have been accused of “ripping off” their customers by bumping up the price of reusable bags in the wake of the introduction of the plastic bag tax.

A national waste and recycling management company says it has seen stores charging up to £9 for hessian shopping bags, which it says cost pennies to produce.

BusinessWaste.co.uk – “The major pity is that some companies have seen fit to nudge up the prices of their reusable bags as soon as the tax was introduced”

Yorkshire-based BusinessWaste.co.uk says that some major stores are taking advantage of English shoppers as they rush out to buy alternatives to single-use plastic bags, motivated by the almost natural urge to turn a bigger profit.

“Despite all the moaning in the press about the plastic bag tax, it’s a good thing that should be applauded,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall. “The major pity is that some companies have seen fit to nudge up the prices of their reusable bags as soon as the tax was introduced.”

According to BusinessWaste.co.uk, shoppers have reported inflated prices for different kinds of reusable bags.

  • Stronger plastic bags for £1
  • Hessian bags in supermarkets for £4
  • “Designer” plastic bags are £3
  • “Designer” hessian bags for up to £9

“We’re not in the business of naming-and-shaming retailers, no matter how big or small they are,” says Mark Hall, “But the plain fact is that shops are ripping off customers left, right and centre.”

BusinessWaste.co.uk says that the whole point of the plastic bag tax is to encourage people to get into the habit of shopping with multiple-use bags, rather than use just as many disposable bags as they did before.

But as long as customers are charged £9 for fancy reusable bags, it’s going to be difficult to convince English customers reusable bags are a good idea, Hall says.


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  1. Some people are organised and some are not that is the way of the world. Hiking the price will no doubt encourage the use of Bags for Life but it is the “stick”method. As I am involved in the industry I was well ahead but that is an exception.Have not seen extortionate bag for life prices in my area (Middlesbrough) but have seen no decrease in public buying plastic bags. Some are going back to the old favourite of picking up a cardboard box to put their shopping in. Think we need to give it a few months to retrieve better data and let the legislation kick in then make a more informed decision.

    In the larger supermarkets I take shopping trolley to my car and decant into large shopping bags in the boot and that works just fine for me. Always have a long-life bag in car as well so all bases covered.

  2. IF England had less ‘get out’ reasons , i e areas where still have free bags, then that might help!!!! It’s not difficult, 5p tariff works well here in Wales because it’s 5p a bag full stop.

  3. Completely agree with Norman, these things take time and saying that it is having little/no effect after less than a month is a bit pointless.

  4. Maybe if shop assistants were trained in th law on plastic bags it might avoid the confusio that is existing now. Also perhaps if all clothing items qere put in bags it woul no have the adverse reaction which it has had.tThere are security issues in havingto carry a visible receipt andalso if you have to take an article of clothing home in tbe rain or deop it in the mud how do you replace it?

  5. I don’t see how it’s really possible to quantify findings based on such a short window of data gathering. If anything, the findings show that there is scope for consumer uptake and that in itself is reflected in the responses. An 89% response of “I forgot them or don’t have them can’t be quantified at this stage given that most shoppers do on big shop each week and this regulation hasn’t even had time to truly sink in. That taken in context with a 21% uptake in re-usables implies that there will be uptake and a change in habits and that the consumer needs time to adjust.

    On the flip side, 20p would be seen as a knee jerk reaction at this stage, potentially alienating consumers and pouring petrol on a media led backlash that would do more harm than good.

    In this instance, a window of opportunity for review should be considered in 4-6 months and even then, only with a view to adjusting the “message” and not the tariff.

  6. For goodness sake, give it a chance BigGreen.etc: it’s only been here for a few weeks. Scotland’s Richard Lochhead MSP has announced they’ve cut consumption by 650million bags in the last year so it’s working there.
    But does BigGreen work for the Chancellor as well? A 20p charge would mean 4p of it would be VAT, meaning £92 million rather than the £23 million projected this year.
    My only moans are that (a) shops selling clothes should be incorporating the bag charge in the cost of the garments, and (b) retailers should be required to display how much of their extra income (it amounts to £115 million) from the 5p charge they’ve donated to ‘environmental causes.’ I suspect most of the smaller traders will simply keep the extra money.

  7. 2 weeks in is hardly giving the scheme chance to become embedded. It will take some time for people to make a permenant adjustment to their shopping behaviour. It’s normal to take time to develop new habits. I have a utility room full of hessian bags and bags for life but don’t always remember to put them in the car at 6.30 am in the morning before work when I intend to shop on the way home. When my Local Authority changed the waste collection system I often forgot to put the right bins out on the right day but the routine gradually became automatic and so will planning ahead for my shopping logistics. A further ‘knee jerk’ reaction price hike to bags so early on will cause resentmentand is not necessary. Scotland have proved that the charge works so we should be patient and look at the data again in a few months time which will provide a much more informed overview of the effect of the legislation.

  8. If people choose to pay £9 for a bag when cheaper options are available that’s their choice – don’t blame the vendors!

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