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How A Plastic Bag Charge Led To An 85% Drop In Their Use In England

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It’s been almost one year since England introduced its new bag law, joining Wales, Ireland, and Scotland. Now, the entire UK has laws in place to discourage the use of plastic bags from major retailers.

The law, which requires a 5p charge for plastic bags at retailers with 250 employees or more, led to a dramatic 85% decrease in the number of plastic bags used by the nation.

In England alone, there were 7.64 billion plastic bags handed out in supermarkets in 2013, which is an increase of over 1 billion from 2010.

Laws like this aren’t unheard of around the world. The UK joins several countries in using the law to reduce the number of plastic bags used, including Denmark, Italy, Germany, Belgium, China, France, India, Australia, Brazil, Mexico, 17 States of the USA (Including California and New York), and several countries across Africa.

These plastic bags aren’t always disposed of properly, and they’re ending up everywhere. IFL Science points out that about 8 million tonnes of plastic ends up in the sea each year, in large part due to plastic bags.

Plastic bags from the UK have been found as far north as the chilling Arctic Ocean. They find their way into urban streets and even blow into rural countrysides. No matter where you turn, the trash and plastic that isn’t being taken to landfills is polluting our environment.

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Who Benefits From This Charge?

The obvious winners from this law are the supermarkets that the tax involves. While they aren’t seeing any major decrease in customers (in England or beyond) they are saving money and making money from the law. They now spend less money on the plastic bags themselves and they get to charge when the plastic bags they do buy get used. The supermarkets keep 100% of the money, although the government does expect them to donate some to a good cause.

In fact, charities will hopefully benefit from this themselves. The levy is expected to raise over 730 million GBP for charity in the next decade. In fact, M&S, UK’s fifth-largest supermarket retailer, enacted a bag levy of its own in 2007 and has raised 10 million GBP for charities itself.

The government is also benefitting from the new law. According to the BBC, the government expects to save some major cash from this law. This article points out that over the next decade, they expect to see savings in both reduced litter clean-up fees and carbon emission fees — almost 75 million GBP worth.

An overlooked winner of this situation is small businesses. Any business with under 250 employees doesn’t have to charge anything for their plastic bags, which may encourage people to shop at these small businesses more often.

And finally, the main benefactor of this new law is the Earth, and by extension, all of us. Litter is a form of pollution, and any pollution we can cut out is good news for the planet’s health as well as our own.

One community started seeing the positive environmental results of this levy almost immediately. A boater in Leicester, England said that he was used to pulling 60 to 100 bags out of the city’s rivers weekly. It all but stopped by January, 2016 — just 3 months after the levy was put in place. Now, he pulls a handful of unbranded bags a week.

What’s Been the Reaction?

The reaction in England has seemed to be overwhelmingly positive. In fact, Break the Bag Habit coalition — a group who’s dedicated to keeping rural England tidy — surveyed 2000 people. Over 60% of people surveyed agreed that the new law was “reasonable.”

Many organizations and individuals hope to see more. As it stands, the reduction of plastic bags will certainly help marine life and even some land animals, but it’s still just a “small-step”, according to Friends of the Earth chairman Craig Bennet. Hopefully this is just the first step of many in the right direction.

Featured photo credit: Bagatyou.com via bagatyou.com

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