NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Charge for Plastic Bags in Britain Draws Mixed Reactions

October 16, 2015

Great Britain is now charging five pence (eight cents) for plastic bags in an effort to wean the population off of plastic shopping bags.

  • In 2014, supermarkets in England used 7.6 billion plastic bags, equaling about 140 bags per person.
  • A plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to decompose in a landfill.
  • The new fee is estimated to reduce the garbage cleaning cost by 60 million pounds ($80 million) over the next 10 years.

British shoppers expecting to pay the fee may be confused, however, by the long list of exemptions allowing them a free plastic bag which includes raw meat, takeout food and unwrapped blades like axes and knives.

  • Retailers refusing to comply with the new plastic bag legislation can be fined up to £5,000 (roughly $7,600).
  • In Wales, since 2001 when a similar measure was instituted, the use of plastic bags has decreased 79 percent.

The National Center for Policy Analysis noted that even paper or reusable bags incur environmental costs according to a 2013 study conducted by the free-market think tank. Yet, Britain′s move to restrict plastic bag use is not the first of its kind.

  • Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008, and Bangladesh removed them in 2002.
  • Nearly 100 municipalities in California have banned plastic bags since 2007.

Source:  Dan Bilefsky, "Charge for Plastic Bags in Britain Draws Applause, Anger and Humor," New York Times, October 6, 2015.


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