Public behind plastic bag charge

31st May 2016

As the Government collects carrier bag usage statistics for the first time, a poll partly-commissioned by CPRE has revealed increased public support for the bag charge in England.

The ICM-conducted poll for the Break the Bag Habit (BTBH) coalition found that 70% of English respondents now find it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags - an 8% increase in support in the eight months since the English charge came into force. The increase was particularly marked amongst younger people, where support has jumped 10%.

Despite this encouraging news, the poll indicated that more people find the current charge confusing. The charge, introduced on 5 October 2015, does not apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags or franchises such as Subway. Answering the ICM survey, 42% of respondents found it confusing that only some shops charged for bags.

An ICM poll last October found that respondents in Scotland and Wales, where universal bag charges have significantly reduced usage, are very supportive of a scheme that applies to all retailers: 66% in Scotland and 70% in Wales. By contrast, public appetite in England for a universal charge is notably lower in 2016, with 53% agreeing the charge should apply to all retailers (a 2% increase on 2015) and 27% agreeing that it should extend to all bags, including paper bags.

Samantha Harding, spokesperson for the Break the Bag Habit coalition, said: “We fully expect the forthcoming Government statistics to show a significant decrease in the number of bags people use, reflecting the strong public support for the charge.

At the same time, people are clearly confused by the current scope of the charge. A universal scheme that applies to all bags and all retailers will eliminate confusion, boost public support, and most importantly reduce bag usage and litter.

With a frankly ridiculous £1 billion litter bill, England is lagging behind the other home nations. Now that the scheme has been successfully launched, the Government should review the exemptions and introduce a universal charge.”

The BTBH coalition started campaigning in 2012 for a bag charge scheme that would reduce litter and bag usage across England. Home nations have had universal bag charges or taxes since 2011; carrier bag usage in Northern Ireland dropped 81% between 2010 and 2014.

There have been questions from the press and public about where the money from the charge goes. Nearly three quarters of respondents to the 2016 survey (74%) supported the idea of using it specifically for a national anti-litter programme.