The Definitive Guide To The Plastic Bag Charge

Anyone who has worked in retail will know how fickle customers can be. They can sniff out a penny price hike like a drugs dog at an airport. Thus you can imagine the outrage posters for the 5p bag charge coming to all major stores near you in October are causing amongst some. Standing on the frontline in a well-known retail outlet the comments I receive are infuriating and display a level of ignorance and selfishness which are at times shocking.

I understand I really do, the minor annoyance and inconvenience at forgetting your bags on a big shop and adding a Mars Bars worth of charge to your bill, its the same minor annoyance and inconvenience those behind the counter are also feeling at the new legislation with changes to their procedure. Yet that is all it is a small grievance upon your life against the grand scheme of things whereby single-use plastic bags are a plague upon this planet.

Few of  my customers seem to grasp the reasoning behind the charge, believing it either to be a ploy by the company or the Government and few of the mainstream media outlets guides to the bag charge seem to feature exactly why we should be charged for the luxury of a plastic bag. Therefore before you walk into a shop tomorrow and moan at the inconvenience of having to fork over 5p, please read this and bear in mind why the bag charge is a very good thing.


1. 90% of seabirds have some form of plastic in their gut

I admit this is my go to fact whenever anyone questions me about the bag charge, but that is purely because it is so shocking. 9 out of 10 seabirds around the world have some form of plastic in their gut, that’s a huge increase on the 5% of birds found with plastic waste in them during the 1960’s and unfortunately it looks like that number will only rise. Scientists predict by 2050 every dead seabird found will have ingested some form of plastic waste.

2. Plastic Waste Impacts The Whole Food Chain

As it becomes apparent that more of our marine wildlife is ingesting our  plastic waste it becomes clearer that this is a growing problem. Chris Wilcox, of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, who was involved in the seabirds study, told the IBT “It is only a matter of time before we see the same problems in other species, and even in the fish we eat.” 

Plastic bags which end up in the ocean will break down into tiny pieces of plastic. This definitely shouldn’t be a case of out of sight, out of mind as these tiny plastic molecules are ingested by those at the bottom of the food chain. The plastic then has a method of working its way throughout the food chain from the plankton to the fish and into humans. It’s estimated the average seafood eater ingests 11,000 pieces of tiny plastic a year but the impact of this is not yet known.

3. This Is A Growing Problem

Eight million metric tonnes of plastic waste enters the oceans every year and that number is growing. Without action there could be one ton of plastic for every three tons of fish by 2025. Likewise those who volunteer to clean up the River Thames have noticed a shift in the waste found on the riverbeds. No longer are the main waste items found in our rivers discarded trolleys and metalwork, instead our river beds play home to plastic carrier bags.

4. The Oceans Are Really Important To Our Survival

Obviously we’ve all heard that healthy oceans are key to humans survival. Fish is a growing source of protein for humans, accounting for around 16% of the global populations protein intake  in 2011. 90% of the big fish populations such as swordfish and tuna have gone, instead our oceans are becoming filled with dead zones caused by pollution. Furthermore between 50 and 70% of all oxygen comes from the oceans.

Yes not every threat to ocean habitats is caused by the plastic bag blight, however it is one threat to them. The plastic bag charge will also hopefully reopen peoples interests and discussions into how our lifestyles can impact upon the ocean and help to change wasteful habits which have negative impacts.

5. It’s Not Just Wildlife At Risk

In the early noughties Bangladesh slapped an outright ban on plastic bags after it emerged they were responsible for the catastrophic 1988 and 1998 floods which submerged 75% of the country and caused untold economic damage. Discarded plastic bags had choked the drainage system causing the intense floods. Over 1,000 people died and 30 million were made homeless.


The Government are hoping that the charge will reduce bag use by 80% in supermarkets and by 50% on the high street. This would cause a significant reduction in waste and thus have a positive impact upon all of the above points. For those sceptics who don’t think it will reduce usage, I will remind you of consumers stubborn nature when it comes to spending a little more. I personally witnessed a customer take three trips to his car with loose items the other day because he thought the bag charge was already happening and refused to pay for one. If that isn’t testament to how to manipulate behaviour with money I don’t know what is.

Lastly I would like to see the bag charge become one of many stepping stones to a reduction in waste. Once we’ve tackled plastic shopping bags, why not take on the excessive plastic packaging we find many of our products wrapped in?




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Emily Stewart
Owner of Inspirewildlife - a site dedicated to sharing positive conservation news stories from around the world. Zoo Management Graduate from University of Chester
Emily Stewart

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