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England Institutes Single-Use Plastic Bag Charge

Large stores and supermarkets in England must now levy a special charge on disposable, single-use plastic bags. A new nationwide law went into effect Monday that says retailers with 250 or more employees must charge consumers 8 cents per plastic bag.

The aim of the charge is to encourage consumers to eschew plastic bags and instead carry their purchased goods and groceries in reusable bags – something that could bode well for sales of branded totes.  As a result of the charge, the British government expects an 80% reduction in plastic bag use in supermarkets and a 50% drop in high street stores.  

Environmental concerns compelled the implementation of the charge. "The more bags we take from the shops, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside, and damaging our wildlife and marine environments," says Britain's Environment Minister Rory Stewart.

The British government anticipates the charge will generate $1.1 billion for good causes, while also saving $91 million on litter cleaning costs over the next 10 years.  

Between 2011 and 2014, England’s U.K. neighbors Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland put bag charges in place. The British Retail Consortium criticized England’s bag charge, saying it sends a confusing message and is different than other U.K. countries’ charges because it doesn’t apply to all shops and all types of disposable bags.