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The Government has announced it will extend the plastic carrier bag charge to all retailers in England from April 2021, as it raises the fee from 5p to 10p per bag. Previously, retailers that employed 250 people or fewer were exempt from charging customers for single-use bags. According to Defra, the levy has led to a 95% cut in plastic bag sales in major supermarkets since it was introduced in 2015.
The news comes as research from retail tech company Ubamarket shows that over three-quarters of Brits believe supermarkets are responsible for “unacceptable” levels of plastic pollution. According to the survey, 77% of respondents said that no matter how much they recycle, it is manufacturers and supermarkets that are to blame for most plastic pollution.
A whopping 82% of consumers believe the level of plastic packaging on food and drink products needs to be changed “drastically”, while over half agreed that it is the single greatest threat to life and the environment in modern history. Greenpeace research cited by Ubamarket shows that UK supermarkets are responsible for 58 billion pieces of plastic a year.
Some supermarkets have sought to go further to decrease their use of plastic – for instance, Morrisons is considering swapping out its plastic bags for life in favour of strong paper bags.
Will Broome, CEO and Founder of Ubamarket said the Government’s latest steps were “encouraging”. “It is imperative that other retailers take heed of this and work quickly to establish their own sustainability goals and action plan,” Will said. Ubamarket has launched a Plastic Alerts feature that allows customers to discover the recyclability and environmental footprint of different products by simply scanning the barcode.
A new report by Greenpeace found that UK supermarkets could make “significant reductions” to the amount of plastic produced by focusing on specific grocery categories. In fact, changing the packaging for just 13 categories of popular groceries, including fizzy drinks, fruit and vegetables, and household detergents, could reduce plastic by around 35%, and remove 45 billion pieces of supermarket plastic.
Christina Dixon, senior oceans campaigner at the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), said the Environment Bill poses an opportunity for the Government to take more action on plastic pollution and set legally binding targets for supermarkets. “Ministers should put tax discounts in place for producers and retailers that sell their products in reusable and refillable packaging to incentivise the vital move away from disposable packaging to reuse systems.”
This move could ensure that smaller retailers can benefit from reducing their plastic use, Christina said: “This would enable all retailers to benefit from reducing throwaway packaging by rolling out reuse systems, and wouldn’t mean this move is only an option for those with the greatest revenue or most control due to a high proportion of own-brand products.”