Although it’s too early to say how much the new 5p charge for plastic bags has discouraged shoppers in England so far, figures from North of the border suggest a major shift in consumer attitudes is well under way.
Leeds-based supermarket Asda has seen its carrier-bag usage plunge by 90 per cent in the wake of the 5p charge in Scotland being brought in a year ago today.
Morrisons, the Co-operative, Waitrose and Boots have all reported an estimated 80 per cent reduction in carrier bag use. Sainsbury’s has a 100 per cent drop as it no longer offers plastic bags to shoppers.
It is estimated that British shoppers took home more than 8.5 billion single-use supermarket carriers last year.
But the number of plastic carrier bags handed out in stores was slashed by at least 650 million - from 800 million - in the first year of Scotland’s 5p charge.
New figures released on the anniversary of its introduction indicate the levy has cut usage by around 80 per cent, equivalent to 650 million fewer bags than in previous years.
Announcing the figures, Scotland’s Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead hailed the 5p charge as a “major success”.
He said: “Previously statistics showed that people in Scotland used more than 800 million new single-use carrier bags every single year - more per head than anywhere else in the UK.
“I thank Scotland for embracing this policy and showing we’re serious about tackling litter, reducing waste and creating a cleaner, greener environment for everyone to enjoy.
“It’s now becoming second nature to shoppers to reuse their carrier bags and hopefully to think more about our impact on the environment.”
And Lang Banks, director of WWF (World Wildlfe Fund) Scotland, said: “It’s fantastic to hear carrier bag usage in Scotland has dropped so significantly since the 5p charge was introduced.
“As well as removing millions of bags from circulation, it’s also great that millions of pounds have been raised for good causes across the country.
“Before the charge Scotland consumed a staggering 800 million carrier bags every year, many of which ended up polluting our environment and threatening wildlife. As an additional benefit, less resource use also means fewer carbon emissions.”
After the change in the law, shoppers are to be charged 5p for every new plastic bag they use at large stores in England, with some exemptions for selected fresh food and other items like razors.
England is actually the last country in the UK to start charging for plastic bags.
In 2011, Wales started charging 5p per bag and saw a 71 per cent drop. Scotland and Northern Ireland followed suit in 2014 and 2013 respectively.
Bangladesh was the first country in the world to ban thinner plastic bags altogether in 2002 after they blocked local drainage systems during severe floods.
Other countries who have the levy in place are South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, China, and Italy. More recently Mexico City and the US state of California banned the bags.