Tesco carrier bag

It may only be a trial in three stores, for now, but Tesco’s plastic bag crackdown looks like it could signal the end of a relatively short lifespan for the 5p bag.

The retailer’s trial in Aberdeen, Dundee and Norwich, which will see customers forced to buy 8p or 10p bags for life if they want a bag, has the potential to be a game changer.

It’s amazing how quickly the war on plastic bags has moved and how the role of supermarkets has gone full circle.

Before the charge was introduced in England in October 2015, there were headlines warning of chaos in the aisles, with organisations like the BRC warning of confusion looming for shoppers.

However, the fact is that most shoppers have adjusted with little fuss to the bag tax and by October last year, 12 months in, Tesco revealed it alone had slashed bag use by 1.5 billion since the charge came in.

Not only that, but an increasing number of customers were selecting bagless deliveries in online orders.

The following month the Marine Conservation Society announced the even more startling statistic that the number of plastic carrier bags found on UK beaches had dropped by almost half since the charge came in.

There have been other good consequences. Tesco has already raised nearly £30m for causes through its participation in the tax and has pledged this will continue, even in those stores where it is trialling getting rid of 5p bags.

Genuine fears

The loss of that funding may be one unintended consequence in the long run if bags disappear - and there are still genuine fears that simply getting rid of free bags is simply passing on the problem to other types of carrier ending up in landfill. But it is surely an environmental price well worth paying.

Tesco’s move reflects just how far attitudes have changed since 2015, and it’s not simply a case of companies having a sudden conversion to the environmental cause.

As with its recent announcement of new targets for renewable energy, Tesco and other retailers are making decisions on the environment by realising that they should take the driving seat on the road towards a circular economy, rather than responding to government and campaign group pressure.

Reducing waste, be that plastic or energy, is saving Tesco money, and the reactionary attitudes of the past have rapidly been going out of the window. In an environmentally friendly way, of course.