England's plastic shopping bag charge will double to 10p, and small retailers are no longer exempt

  • All retailers in England will have to charge customers 10p ($0.13) for each plastic shopping bag from April 21. The current charge is 5p. 
  • Retailers with fewer than 250 employees are currently exempt from the charge, but that exemption will end.
  • Since the government introduced the charge in 2015, the number of plastic bags found on UK beaches has decreased by more than 60%.
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The charge for plastic shopping bags in England will double to 10p ($0.13) from April 2021 – and smaller businesses will no longer be exempt.

Since October 2015, retailers in England with more than 250 employees have had to charge customers 5p for a single-use plastic bag. The new charge will apply to all retailers, the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said. 

This brings England in line with Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, where all retailers must charge customers for plastic bags. But unlike the rest of the UK, English retailers do not charge for paper bags, and will not have to under the new rules.

Plastic carrier bag usage in the UK's seven largest supermarkets has dropped 95% since the government introduced the charge in 2015, Defra says. The average shopper now buys only four plastic bags from these supermarkets each year – down from 140 in 2014.

The number of plastic bags found on UK beaches has fallen by more than 60% since the charge was introduced, Dr Laura Foster of the Marine Conservation Society said.

The funds from plastic bag sales are donated to charities of the retailer's choice. By July, the total donations had reached £178 million. Environment Secretary George Eustice said the charge has been "hugely successful" so far, adding that he hopes other countries will copy the scheme. 

The new, higher charge is part of the government's 25-year plan to eliminate avoidable plastic waste. From 2020, the government will ban plastic straws, stirrers, and cotton buds, and it plans to tax plastic packaging containing less than 30% recycled content from April 2022 – the first tax of this type in the world.

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