How the UK’s 5p plastic bag levy has changed consumer shopping habits

Deborah Williams 24 October 2019 (Last Updated October 24th, 2019 09:27)

The mandatory 5p plastic bag levy has changed the way British consumers shop, with 78% saying they now reuse plastic bags more often, according to the latest research from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).

How the UK’s 5p plastic bag levy has changed consumer shopping habits
How the UK’s 5p plastic bag levy has changed consumer shopping habits. Credit: cocoparisienne via Pixabay

The mandatory 5p plastic bag levy has changed the way British consumers shop, with 78% saying they now reuse plastic bags more often, according to the latest research from the Charities Aid Foundation (CAF).

The research also found that nearly 77% of consumers said the levy was a positive step to protect the environment and 17% said they resent having to pay for their shopping bags.

Only 12% found the levy to have been an inconvenience.

Although not mandatory, retailers have already donated £167m of the levy proceeds to charity; the research revealed that 67% of consumers agree with this sentiment. More than half (54%) said they would be more likely to shop at a supermarket if they knew it would donate the levy proceeds to charity and 59% selected environmental or recycling charities as donation recipients.

CAF said it has worked with four major retailers to distribute nearly £43m of the levy money to charitable causes since the introduction of the scheme.

CAF head of corporate clients Klara Kozlov said: “Whilst the big supermarkets we work with – Co-op, Aldi, M&S and Sainsbury’s – have all donated the vast majority of plastic bag levies to a variety of great causes, there is still awareness to be raised and work to do to make sure more of this money finds its way from retailers to charities, which are making such a difference in our communities.”

“We know that shoppers are not just in favour of the levy, they are very keen for the money generated to be put to good use, especially when focused on environmental issues.

“With Extinction Rebellion protests on the streets and the school strikes for the climate movement continuing to engage a new generation, consumers are more and more inclined to spend their money with retailers that share their values.”

The ripple effect of the 5p plastic bag levy

The 5p plastic bag levy was introduced across the UK as a whole in 2015. Since then, the UK has seen a surge of retailers implementing sustainable ‘bagging’ solutions across their brick-and-mortar locations, with seven major retailers reporting a 90% decline in the sales of single-use plastic bags in 2018-2019.

Earlier this year, UK supermarket chain Iceland announced it will trial the complete removal of plastic bags from its Hackney, London store, offering 15p extra-strong paper bags, which can hold up to 16kg of goods.

In June, UK supermarket chain Waitrose & Partners launched its new packaging-free retail concept ‘Waitrose Unpacked’ which saw the removal of packaging from hundreds of products, such as flowers and indoor plants, and refillable zones with products such as wine, beer, cereal, coffee and cleaning products.

Outside of the UK, German environment minister Svenja Schulze is reportedly considering plans for a new law to ban plastic shopping bags in the nation as part of the European Union’s effort to tackle plastic pollution.

The New Zealand Government implemented a ban on single-use plastic bags in July this year, with businesses across the country given six months to phase-out single-use plastic bags in shops.

New York Governor Andrew M Cuomo has signed a new law that bans the sale of single-use plastic bags in the US state beginning March 2020.

In December 2018, it was reported that major Australian supermarkets have eliminated 1.5 billion single-use plastic carry bags since July 2018, following the country’s commitment to ban them across the country.