Plastic bag

Supermarkets bought nearly a quarter fewer plastic bags last year compared to 2016/17

Plastic bag sales in England’s biggest seven supermarkets have dropped by nearly 90% since the government introduced its 5p charge three years ago, according to new government figures revealed today.

The statistics, covering Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Tesco and Waitrose, also show the supermarkets bought nearly a quarter fewer plastic bags last year compared to 2016/17 - a decrease of almost 300 million.

It is the equivalent to just 19 bags per person in England, compared to 140 bags when the government introduced a 5p charge in 2015, a reduction of 86%.

The figures come amid a raft of government fiscal measures to cut down on plastic, including proposals revealed in January to extend the 5p charge to cover almost all retailers.

Ministers are also planning a deposit return scheme for plastic bottles and new taxes on single-use plastics.

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

“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.”

A recent study by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science revealed that since the 5p charge was introduced, there has been an estimated 50% reduction in plastic bag marine litter. More than nine billion plastic bags have been taken out of circulation, it said.

“Every plastic bag not purchased is one which will not end up in our sea, damaging habitats or harming marine life,” said Thomas Maes, marine litter scientist at Cefas. “Since efforts from across Europe came into effect, including the UK’s 5p charge, we have observed a sharp decline in the percentage of plastic bags captured by fishing nets on our trawl surveys of the sea floor around the UK as compared to 2010.

“It is encouraging to see the efforts to reduce plastic bag usage by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government. These figures show that by working together we can tackle the marine litter problem by reducing, reusing and recycling.”

Today’s figures also reveal that for 2017/18 5p plastic bag sales contributed nearly £60m to charities and other good causes.