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The 5p Plastic Bag Charge

October 12th, 2015

Since 1 October 2015, a 5p bag charge has been applied to plastic bags used in many of our favourite stores. But why has this now become the law?

England is in fact the last country in the United Kingdom to enforce the 5p bag charge; Wales was the first to introduce the charge back in 2011. The Government has introduced the 5p bag charge in order to combat excessive plastic waste. Prior to the plastic bag charge, retailers were producing in excess of 7 billion plastic bags a year. The Government hopes that by introducing the 5p charge, consumers will be encouraged to re-use old bags.

Who Can Charge?

Not all retailers will be required to charge for plastic bags. Only retailers who employ 250 or more full time members of staff in a year will be required to impose the fee. To charge, the retailers must sell goods in England and/or deliver the same in England. The 5p charge will apply to non-reusable, unused, plastic bags which have a handle, opening and are not sealed. Bags used for collections and deliveries will also be caught under the charge.

Exemptions

Not all plastic bags will incur a 5p charge. The following categories are exempt:

  • Re-usable bags (e.g. bags for life);
  • Paper bags;
  • Bags used for uncooked meat and fish;
  • Bags used to secure food containers;
  • Flowers, plants and seeds wrapped in bags;
  • Unwrapped sharp items, e.g. knife blades;
  • Medicines (prescribed)
  • Bags used for services e.g. cleaning

Retailer’s Duties

Qualifying retailers will now be under a strict duty to monitor bag charges, in particular at self-service and unmanned checkouts. Failure to comply with the 5p charge can lead to retailers being fined. Each local authority will have a duty to publish their fine scales on their websites. Government guidance suggests the following fines:

  • £200-£5,000 for not charging for a qualifying bag;
  • £100-£5,000 for not keeping proper records;
  • £100-£5,000 for not supplying records; and
  • £20,000 for giving misleading information to the Local Authority, obstructing or failing to assist them.

Retailers will also need to keep records of all bags sold and provide details of all proceeds from the charge to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (“DEFRA”).

Where will the Proceeds Go?

Retailers will be encouraged to donate proceeds of the bag charge to good charitable causes. However this is entirely at the retailers’ discretion. As retailers will now be under a duty to inform DEFRA of where the proceeds go and the information will be published and available for the public to see, it is anticipated that retailers will comply with this charitable expectation.

The 5p plastic bag charge is a great Government incentive to help reduce the amount of plastic produced and disposed of. It will also encourage people to shop conscientiously which will have an increasingly positive impact on our environment.

Should you forget your shopping bags, and happen to be in Chesham, please pop into the office for a complimentary Lennons shopper bag.

Information derived and adapted from:
GOV.UK (2015) Carrier bag charges: retailer’s responsibilities; and
GOV.UK (2015) Carrier bags: why there’s a charge

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