In October 2015, the UK government introduced a 5p tax on carrier bags in England. The majority of information on this page relates to this scheme in England. For information on similar schemes elsewhere in the UK, see The Carrier Bag Tax in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, below.
From 5 October 2015, shoppers in England are required to pay a minimum of 5p for every carrier bag they use when shopping at major supermarkets and other large retailers.
The Carrier Bag Tax was introduced by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in a bid to significantly reduce the number of carrier bags taken from shops.
7.64 billion "single use" plastic bags were given out by major supermarkets in England in 2014, according to Defra, who believe that reducing plastic bag use will have a positive impact on the environment.
Environment minister Rory Stewart, speaking in October 2015, said: "Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country."
Retailers must record data of carrier bag usage and are expected to donate all proceeds from the carrier bag tax to good causes or charities, particularly those who deal with environmental issues.
The Carrier Bag Tax applies to large retailers only. A large retailer is defined as any that employs 250 or more full-time equivalent* employees in a year.
Small or medium-sized businesses - i.e. those with fewer than 250 full-time equivalent* employees - are not required to apply the charge, although they can still choose to do so voluntarily, without having to keep records of carrier bag use (see below).
* If your business employs part-time or seasonal staff and you are unsure about how many full-time equivalent employees this equates to, you can find detailed guidance on how to calculate the figure on the gov.uk website.
If your business is part of a franchise, you only need to account for the employees who work directly for you, not the wider franchise.
Businesses must charge for carrier bags that meet all of the following criteria:
As well as bags that don't meet the above criteria, the following types of bag are also exempt from the 5p charge:
Returnable multiple re-use bags ('Bags for Life') must be all of the following:
Please note that exempt bags can still be charged for voluntarily, without the need for sales and proceeds being recorded.
No. The charge does not apply if the plastic bags are being used for:
If your store uses self-checkouts, the government says you "must do all you can" to ensure that customers pay for any plastic bags that they use - e.g. by asking them how many bags they have used and charging them accordingly.
Yes. Carrier bags used to package shopping bought online and either collected or delivered must be charged for.
As the number of carrier bags required to package the shop may not be known until after the shopping has been paid for, you can charge for an average number of bags per delivery / collection, provided this is at the usual rate of 5p per bag or more.
Defra also encourages delivery retailers to offer bagless delivery as an option to reduce waste.
Retailers are expected to donate all proceeds from the carrier bag charge (minus "reasonable costs", see below) to good causes or charities, particularly those who work towards a greener environment.
Any new costs that retailers have been forced to incur in introducing or enforcing the carrier bag tax can be counted as "reasonable costs" when calculating net proceeds.
Reasonable costs may include:
Reasonable costs do not include any existing costs, such as the cost of the carrier bags themselves.
Retailers must record the following information for the whole reporting year:
Retailers must keep the above records for three years from 31 May in the next reporting year - i.e. records for the reporting year 6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017 must be kept until 31 May 2020.
Retailers must send their carrier bag records to the Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) no later than 31 May following the end of the reporting year - i.e. records for the reporting year 6 April 2016 to 5 April 2017 must be sent to Defra by 31 May 2017.
All carrier bag usage and tax records will be made available to the public.
Retailers should email their name and email address to PlasticBagCharge@defra.gsi.gov.uk before the annual deadline. Upon doing so, they will receive advice on how to report their carrier bag usage and will be sent reminders on when to report.
To ensure retailers are complying with the new law, local authorities may conduct inspections of any store. These can be carried out without any warning and as an anonymous 'secret shopper'. During these visits, inspectors may:
Retailers not following regulations correctly risk breaking the law and may receive:
Details of all fixed and variable penalties and how to appeal or object to a fine are available on the gov.uk website:
Wales became the first nation in the UK to introduce a 5p charge on the supply of carrier bags in October 2011. In September 2015, the Welsh government reported a 71% decrease in carrier bag use and 57% decrease in overall bag use, once the increased use of 'bags for life' and other reusable bags had been factored in.
Northern Ireland introduced a 5p levy on "single use" carrier bags in April 2013, leading to a decrease in usage of 72% twelve months later. In January 2015, the levy was extended to include any type of carrier bag, including reusable bags, that cost less than 20p.
Scotland introduced a 5p charge on carrier bags, including those made from paper and plant-based materials, on 20 October 2014 in a bid to "encourage bag re-use and reduce the visible impact of litter". Figures published one year on, in October 2015, showed carrier bag usage had dropped by around 80%, which equates to around 650 million fewer bags than in the previous year.
Any retailer who trades across different regions of the UK (e.g. England and Wales; England and Scotland) can choose to liaise with and report to just one local authority, rather than each authority for all regions in which they trade. To do this, they must first apply for a Primary Authority agreement.