7.6 Billion Plastic Bags!

I just listened to this short radio clip from Radio 5 Live about the introduction of a 5p charge for a plastic bag on October the 5th. I was astounded to hear that last year (2014) 7.6 billion plastic bags were handed out by large supermarkets in the UK. 7.6 billion!! And that’s just the supermarkets. Curious about where the 5p from the sale of each plastic bag would end up, I rang Tesco Customer Services today, where a very helpful Customer Services Representative told me that the 5p from each bag sold would go to charity. I attempted a little maths and I think I’m correct in working out that 5p multiplied by 7.6 billion is £380 million. (Do correct me if I’m wrong!) That’s a huge amount of money going to good causes.

I found another article on the UK government website here, which claims:

In 2014 over 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England. That’s something like 140 bags per person, equivalent to 61,000 tonnes in total.

They take longer than other bags to degrade in the environment, can damage wildlife, and are extremely visible when littered in our towns, parks and the countryside.

Despite research showing that the average household already has 40 plastic bags around the home, the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets increased for the fifth year running in 2014.

We expect to see a significant reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags as a direct result of the charge – by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.

Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme in Wales saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79% in its first 3 years.

Government estimates are that over the next 10 years the benefits would include:

  • an expected overall benefit of over £780 million to the UK economy
  • up to £730 million raised for good causes
  • £60 million savings in litter clean-up costs
  • carbon savings of £13 million

I don’t know if these sums factor in the forecasted decrease in plastic bag consumption or rely on the fact that people will still consume as many plastic bags as before. If, as they say, there should be a decrease in plastic bag consumption of up to 80% over three years, then the money raised for good causes and the savings should also drop too. Whilst it’s fantastic that charging for plastic bags could raise so much money for charity, in environmental terms, the aim is still to reduce plastic consumption. So ideally, people will start using cloth bags or other containers to bring their shopping home to avoid paying 5p for a plastic bag. Eventually, in an ideal world, there would be no need at all for the manufacture of plastic bags. Now, wouldn’t that be an amazing achievement!

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