New figures released by the UK government have shown a 90% reduction in the sale of plastic bags by the seven largest retailers in England since the 5p charge was introduced in 2015.
The government release did not give comparative figures for total plastic bag sales since 2015, but noted average per-person sales in England are now just 10 bags a year. This compares 140 bags in 2014, before the charge was introduced.
Asda, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, The Co-operative Group, Tesco and Waitrose sold 490 million fewer single-use plastic bags in 2018/19 (549 million). This is half the total of the previous year, said the government statement.
Total single-use carrier bag sales reported by all large retailers fell 37% to 1.11 billion compared with the previous year.
The UK introduced a 5p plastic bag charge in England in October 2015 as part of a nationwide scheme to crack down on plastic waste.
Commenting on the report, Maddy Houghton-Boakes from the Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "‘The continued reduction in plastic bag use in our supermarkets is yet more evidence of the huge impact that a small financial incentive can have."
She continued: "Theresa Villiers [Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs] must now build on this success by rolling it out to all small shops, as well as larger retailers and supermarkets. There is also absolutely no reason why the charge shouldn’t be applied to all bags, paper as well as plastic, to bring an end to the use of these single use items altogether."
In August last year, the government said it was planning to extend the single-use plastic bag charge to all retailers and increase the minimum charge to at least 10p.
According to the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), SMEs which have been exempt from the plastic bag charge supply an estimated 3.4 billion single-use plastic bags per year.
Trade bodies representing 40,000 small retailers have already launched a voluntarily approach to a 5p charge, but this accounts for less than one-fifth of England's estimated 220,000 SMEs.