Plastic bag sales from the biggest retailers in England halved in the last year, according to newly released government data.
Data provided by Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Co-op, Tesco, and Waitrose shows a total of 549 million single-use plastic bags were sold in 2018 to 2019.
This figure is down almost half (47 per cent) from 1.04 billion the previous year, with all major retailers seeing a reduction in the usage of single use bags.
According to the data, the number of carrier bags being used is down 90 per cent since the 5p charge was introduced in 2015 to tackle plastic pollution.
This is equivalent to each person in the country now using 10 bags a year on average, compared to using approximately 140 plastic bags per year in 2014 before the charge was introduced.
The data also revealed these 5p sales have contributed to approximately £140 million being raised for charities and other good causes since the initiative started, with nearly £23 million raised in the last year.
This move away from single use plastic bags has only accelerated since the charge was first introduced four years ago, perhaps due to an increase in awareness surrounding the dangers of plastic pollution.
Global consumption of plastic has been increasing on a huge scale in the past century; according to Plastic Oceans UK, we have produced more plastic in this century than the entire 20th century, meaning we’ve produced more plastic in 19 years than the previous 100.
With 350 million tonnes of plastic being produced worldwide each year (this is equivalent to the weight of the entire adult population), it’s estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic enter the ocean every year – a number which scientists predict will double by 2025.
This is having a devastating impact on our environment, marine life, and wildlife, with Sir David Attenborough recently calling plastic pollution an ‘unfolding catastrophe’ in a new report, led by charity Tearfund.
While it’s true the 5p charge is a step in the right direction to attempt to reverse the effects of plastic pollution, more needs to be done if we can ever hope to do so.
And although Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers said these newly released figures were ‘a powerful demonstration that we are collectively calling time on being a throwaway society,’ – as per the BBC – environmental activists say more needs to be done by the government to reduce single use plastic.
Fiona Nicholls, ocean plastics campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said in a statement provided to UNILAD:
The plastic bag charge has been a huge success and this demonstrates how willing people are to shift their shopping habits to cut plastic. But unfortunately plastic bags are still available for free from smaller retailers, and we still find plastic bags polluting our rivers and turning up in the stomachs of wildlife.
It’s been nearly a year since the government pledged to extend the bag charge to all retailers. Customers are clearly happy to bring their own bag, so we urge the new Environment Secretary Theresa Villiers to get on with it and finish the job.
Hopefully, the number of people purchasing single use plastic bags will only continue to reduce, particularly if government plans to increase the charge to 10p go ahead.
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A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).