Queen Elizabeth II has announced that large retailers in Great Britain will soon be required to charge customers five pence ($0.08) for each single-use plastic bag at checkout. The mandate – which mirrors rules already in place in Wales and Northern Ireland – will go into effect in October of 2015.
“My government will continue to implement major reforms to the electricity market and reduce the use of plastic carrier bags to help protect the environment,” the queen said.
Officials expect the 5p charge will raise millions of pounds every year for charities nominated by stores. The law will not affect businesses with 500 employees or fewer and only targets single-use plastic bags, not paper carriers. “We are very clear that none of this money will come to the government – we are not trying to tax people,” said Britain’s Energy and Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey. “We are trying to change people’s behavior and encourage much more environmentally friendly behavior.”
Environmentalists claim that more than 8 billion disposable bags are used in England each year, which amounts to 130 per person. The measure has significant political support and was backed by groups like the Campaign to Protect Rural England and the Marine Conservation Society. Proponents of the 5p charge point to the success realized in Wales, where single-use carrier bag distribution fell 76% in the year following the law’s implementation there.
In England, supermarkets and large retailers were put on notice in 2011 when Prime Minister David Cameron announced a likely charge unless plastic bag usage dropped. Instead, data showed stores gave out more single-use bags, prompting the eventual mandate.