England starts charging shoppers for plastic bags, in move to help environment

A man carries a shopping basket in an Asda store in north-west London on Aug 18, 2015.
A man carries a shopping basket in an Asda store in north-west London on Aug 18, 2015. PHOTO: REUTERS

LONDON (AFP) - Shoppers in England faced paying a charge for plastic carrier bags from Monday (Oct 5), in a move aimed at helping the environment, although smaller, independent retailers are exempt from the rule.

The 5 pence (10 Singapore cents) charge per single-use bag is intended to reduce litter and protect wildlife.

The British government expects the scheme to reduce usage by up to 80 per cent in supermarkets.

The number of single-use bags given out by major supermarkets in England reached more than 7.6 billion last year - the equivalent of 140 per person and 61,000 tonnes in total.

"The more bags we take, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside, and damaging our wildlife and marine environments," said Environment Minister Rory Stewart.

"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."

4 pence goes to charities, with the remaining penny going to the Treasury.

It is expected to generate £730 million for good causes and save £60 million in litter clean-up costs.

The charge applies to retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees, meaning smaller shops are not included.

The 5 pence charge has already been introduced in the rest of the United Kingdom.