carrier bag charge
February 12, 2016

What impact has the 5p carrier bag charge had so far?

It’s been around 4 months since the 5p carrier bag charge was introduced in England – but what kind of impact has it had on our shopping habits so far?

Designed to benefit both the environment and worthy causes by forcing retailers to charge customers 5p for plastic carrier bags that meet a certain specification, it’s clear that the so called ‘bag tax’ was introduced with positive intentions at heart – but has it worked?

Here, we catch you up on some of the recent news stories regarding the carrier bag charge, to see how it’s influenced consumer and retailer behaviour:

Card Factory get sneaky

Though 5p is hardly going to break the bank, and we should all be doing our bit to reduce the level of damage to our environment, it’s clear that people will always find a way around things.

Card Factory made the news recently due to their bid to sidestep the government tax on carrier bags by, well, simply cutting the handles off! Because the 5p charge only applies to bags that fit a certain specification (ie. thin gauge, plastic bags – with handles!), by snipping the handles off their carrier bags, Card Factory were able to provide customers with what they call a ‘free alternative’ to the 5p tax.

Doesn’t a bag without handles make it, well, not a bag….?

A spokesperson from Card Factory claims they created these handmade ‘free alternatives’ as a direct response to customer feedback.

Though this sneak way around the charge is legal, it sparked outcry from customers and the media, with campaign group ‘Friends of the Earth’ saying that in doing this, Card Factory are essentially ‘missing the point’ of introducing the charge in the first place.

What do you think? Are you happy to carry a bag without handles if it means saving your 5p coins? Do you think Card Factory have ‘missed the point’?

Millions of bags stolen to avoid charge

Perhaps the most alarming story to have emerged since the carrier bag tax was introduced, recent findings from top supermarkets and retailers have reported that around £26.7 million worth of carrier bags have been stolen by customers as a way of swerving the 5p charge.

It’s thought that around a third of people are refusing to pay the charge because they feel it is just a way for already giant companies to make more money, according to research from

Incredibly, more than half of shoppers have admitted to not paying for a carrier bag when they should have – self-service tills in major supermarkets being seen as the main culprit for giving customers an opportunity to use plastic bags without paying, as they require some honesty when the machine asks how many bags you’ve used.

We understand the 5p charge makes forgetting your bags for life that bit more annoying, but were surprised at the sheer number of customers willing to steal bags to avoid it, when in fact the proceeds of the charge are helping to raise millions for good causes.

Have you ever told a cheeky white lie to a self service till to save yourself a couple of pennies?

Social enterprise scheme launches thanks to carrier bag charge

One of the most positive ways in which the carrier bag charge has had an impact is how the proceeds raised from the sales of plastic bags are helping so many good causes across the UK.

Supermarket giant ASDA has 61 stores in Scotland, and using the £750,000 they raised from the carrier bag charge, are partnering with Social Investment Scotland to launch the UK’s first Social Enterprise Suppliers Development Academy.

This groundbreaking new scheme will increase the availability of supermarket products that have a positive social and environmental impact, and is just one of the ways the 5p charge is benefiting the general public.

Co-op’s proceeds benefit 800 community causes

Another fantastic and uplifting result of the carrier bag charge is the launch of the Local Fund, set up by the Co-op supermarket using the £750,000 they have raised from plastic bag sales.

This Local Fund invites community projects and causes to apply for grants of up to £2,500, which is how the proceeds from the charge will be redistributed, and could see up to 800 community causes given a boost in launching their project.


It’s clear there’s been mixed results from the carrier bag tax so far, with customers not always seeing the positive impact that the charge can have.

We don’t doubt that eventually, paying 5p for our bags and remembering our bags for life will simply become part of our everyday food shopping habits.

What are your thoughts on the carrier bag charge?

Do you think it’s positive, and that we should have done it sooner?

Do you think it’s pointless or misguided, and taking more money from the public isn’t the way to solve environmental issues?

Or has it not really made an impact on you at all?


For more information: