The number of single-use plastic bags being used by British shoppers has plummeted by more than 85 percent, official data has revealed.
Since the introduction of a 5p charge on plastic bags last October, plastic bag usage within the country has been in rapid decline. In the year before the charge, more than 7 billion were handed out by seven main supermarkets. However, in the first six months after the change was introduced, this figure plummeted to 640 million.
Ministers in the country have hailed the “fantastic” success of the policy, which aimed to discourage shoppers from consuming large amounts of single-use plastic bags. In total of 40,801 tons of plastic – the equivalent weight to roughly 300 blue whales – has been saved in just the first six months of the introduction of the charge, according to figures released by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
It is estimated that the world consumes 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags annually, with many of the bags finding their way into landfills, waterways or the ocean. In fact, around 9 million tons of plastic finds its way into the world’s oceans every year, which is causes devastating effects on marine species populations and ecosystems.
“Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us – it will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won’t be saddled with mountains of plastic sat taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites,” said Environment Minister Therese Coffey. “It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.”
Under the new policy, all retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees, are required to charge a minimum of 5p per single-use carrier bag for transactions made in-store and online. In addition to reducing pollution levels, the 5p charge has resulted in £29 million in donations from retailers towards charities and community groups. Under the bag tax rules, retailers are expected (though not legally obligated) to donate all proceeds to good causes.
The recent success of the plastic bag charge has propelled the efforts of environmental campaigners seeking a tax on other items that harm the environment. Friend of the Earth, an environmental group campaigning for solutions to environmental problems, believes focus should now be turned to disposable coffee cups and excess packaging for online goods.
“The plummeting plastic bag use demonstrates the huge benefits just a small change in our everyday habits can make. It means less damaging plastic finding its inevitable way into our waterways and countryside. This is a massive boon for nature and wildlife,” said Andrew Pendleton, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth.
“With attention now turning to the millions of non-recyclable coffee cups that go to landfill and to oversized boxes and excess packaging as a by-product of online shopping, the government and forward-thinking businesses have a golden chance to cut waste and reduce resource use in a sensible way that consumers welcome,” he added.
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