Shoppers in England are set to take home six billion fewer single-use plastic bags this year as a result of the 5p charge, early figures suggest.
More than seven billion of the bags were handed out by seven main retailers in 2014, but this figure dropped to just over half a billion in the first six months after the 5p charge was introduced in October last year, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) said.
The charge has also resulted in donations of more than £29 million from retailers towards good causes including charities and community groups.
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: “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 break down in landfill sites.
“The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success - not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefitted from an impressive £29 million raised.
“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.”
Dr Sue Kinsey of the Marine Conservation Society said: “We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results. This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular.”
Tesco UK and Ireland chief executive Matt Davies said: “The Government’s bag charge has helped our customers (in England) reduce the number of bags they use by 30 million each week, which is great news for the environment.”
England was the last part of the UK to introduce the charge, part of a Government scheme to reduce litter and protect wildlife.
Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included.
Environmentalists welcomed the move but have called for a more comprehensive scheme which includes all retailers and all types of bags.
At the time of the launch, the Government expected the scheme to reduce use of single-use carrier bags by up to 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.
It is also expected to save £60 million in litter clean-up costs and generate £730 million for good causes.
Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “The carrier bag charge has been successful in reducing the number of bags given to customers by large retailers, but we would like to see the scheme extended to all retailers as is already the case in Wales and Scotland.
“Carrier bag charging has been popular with customers and retailers in Wales and Scotland with light touch reporting requirements for businesses.
“We would like to see Defra amend the legislation in England to make the carrier bag charge universal.”