Billions fewer single-use plastic carrier bags were issued by large retailers in England during the first six months of the 5p charging policy.
In 2014 some 7.6 billion carrier bags were issued by the UK’s seven main retailers - Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons, The Co-op, Waitrose and Marks & Spencer.
This has now fallen to around 0.6 billion single-use carrier bags in the first six months of the 5p charge, 61% of the total 1.1 billion sold by large retailers [defined by Defra as more than 250 employees].
The major reduction took place between last October, when the policy became law, and this April, according to the latest data from Defra.
And those bags that were sold to shoppers resulted in at least £29m being donated to charity and good causes.
Environment minister Thérèse Coffey described it as “fantastic news for all of us”, saving marine life, making communities cleaner and removing mountains of hard-to-break-down plastic from landfill.
“The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success - not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefited from an impressive £29m raised,” Coffey said.
“It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”
Defra estimates that around eight million tonnes of plastic enters the world’s oceans each year, posing a serious threat to the environment, especially marine life, with plastic being ingested by 31 species of marine mammals and over 100 species of sea birds.
The six billion plastic bags removed from the environment to date this year was equivalent to the weight of roughly 300 blue whales, 300,000 sea turtles or three million pelicans, the department said.
The Waste at the Marine Conservation Society’s technical specialist Dr Sue Kinsey said it was delighted with the positive results.
“This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular,” she said.
“There is always more that we can do and we encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.”