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Single-use plastic bag sales at major supermarkets down 86% since 5p charge

Campaigners called for the Government to impose similar measures to tackle single-use coffee cups and other waste.

Campaigners are calling for charges for plastic bottles and disposable coffee cups after figures showed the 5p carrier bag levy had dramatically reduced use.

Disposable carrier bags issued by the seven biggest supermarket chains have declined by 86% since the charge was introduced in 2015, official figures showed.

Estimates suggest the seven retailers issued 7.6 billion single-use bags in 2014 but that figure was down to just over a billion in 2017-18.

The figures suggest that in total Asda, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco, the Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons sold the equivalent of 19 5p bags per person across the UK, down from 24 last year.

The total number of single-use plastic bags sold by all 249 retailers who reported in 2017-18 was 1.75 billion.

Donations from the bag levy to good causes amounted to over £58.5 million, based on figures from two-thirds of the retailers who voluntarily reported the information.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove said: “These figures demonstrate the collective impact we can make to help the environment by making simple changes to our daily routines.

“We want businesses to continue to look at what they can do to help improve our environment to leave it in a better state than we found it.

“It is only by working together we will reverse the rising tide of plastic waste finding its way into our rivers, seas and oceans and the catastrophic impact this is having on our marine environment.”

But campaigners called for the Government to go further to tackle the problem of plastic waste.

Great as it is to see that so many less plastic bags are entering our environment, there is still a long list of other plastic nasties that are being used for moments before hanging around for centuries to come Rosie Cotgreave, Friends of the Earth

Rosie Cotgreave, from Friends of the Earth, said: “A 5p charge may not have sounded like much, but the plummeting number of single-use plastic bags demonstrates the difference that can be made by effective legislation, which is starting to make reusable shopping bags the new norm.

“Great as it is to see that so many less plastic bags are entering our environment, there is still a long list of other plastic nasties that are being used for moments before hanging around for centuries to come.

“Companies and governments must do more. It’s time legislation was extended to cover all other unnecessary single-use plastics, from straws to coffee cups.

“It’s important, however, that legislation works to phase out unnecessary plastic in the first place rather than just acting on plastic that’s already been produced.”

Ministers have already announced an intention to ban the sale of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds and plans for a deposit return scheme to increase recycling rates of drinks bottles and cans.

A consultation on using the tax system to combat waste is considering measures such as the “latte levy” on coffee cups.

Will McCallum, head of oceans at Greenpeace UK, said: “The success of the plastic bag charge shows that a smart and well-aimed government intervention can change behaviour and greatly reduce plastic waste.

“But we need to go further, faster to stem the tide of throwaway plastic entering our oceans.”

We need to encourage behaviour change for other single-use plastics such as plastic bottles and coffee cups to change habits and reduce litter Mary Creagh

Labour MP Mary Creagh, chairwoman of the Commons Environmental Audit Committee, said: “The public has enthusiastically embraced the plastic bag charge since it was introduced in 2015, which is good news for the environment and our economy.

“Tens of millions of pounds has been raised for local and national good causes but there are concerns that some large retailers are retaining all or part of the charge.

“We need to encourage behaviour change for other single-use plastics such as plastic bottles and coffee cups to change habits and reduce litter.

“We could also look at introducing a take-back scheme to cut the two billion bags a year we still use even further.”

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