Skip to main content

This blog post was published under the 2015-2024 Conservative Administration

Defra’s response to calls for ‘bags for life’ charges

Posted by: , Posted on: - Categories: Weekly stories

On Sunday, 18th April The Observer ran a story about campaigners who are calling for higher charges for so-called ‘bags for life’ as single-use plastic carrier bag sales continue to fall.

The UK Government’s single-use carrier bag charge has been transformative in turning the tide on plastic waste, with sales in the main supermarkets cut by more than 95% since 2015 - taking billions of bags out of circulation - and we will shortly be increasing the minimum charge to 10p and extending it to all retailers to target billions more bags.

This policy ensures single-use plastic bags that would otherwise be given away for free are charged for, thus encouraging shoppers to use reusable, more sustainable bags. ‘Bags for life’ are not typically given away by retailers for free due to the higher costs of acquiring them, so we do not believe there is currently a case to obligate retailers to charge for them.

A Defra spokesperson said:

The UK is a global leader when it comes to tackling plastic. We have banned microbeads in rinse-off personal care products, banned the supply of plastic straws, stirrers and cotton buds, and our 5p carrier bag charge has cut sales by 95% in the main supermarkets.

There is more to do though. Our ambitious plans for a deposit return scheme will recycle billions more plastic bottles and we will introduce a world-leading plastic packaging tax in 2022 to encourage the use of recycled content in plastic packaging.

Our landmark Environment Bill will also give us the powers to take further action to protect our ecosystems from plastic, and as we build back greener from the pandemic we must redouble our efforts to address plastic pollution - and break our plastic habit for good.

Through the Environment Bill, ministers will have a raft of new powers to create deposit return schemes (DRS) for drinks containers; to set a core set of recyclable materials for collection from all households and businesses; to encourage more recyclable packaging through extended producer responsibility (EPR) which will make manufacturers responsible for the full net cost of recycling their packaging waste; to ban the export of plastic waste to non-OECD countries; and place charges on single-use plastic items.

A first round of consultation took place in 2019 for our proposals for DRS, EPR for packaging and Consistent Recycling Collections in England, and we have just launched second consultations on the final proposals for DRS and EPR, with our Consistent Recycling Collections consultation to follow shortly.

The government has consulted on introducing a world-leading new tax on plastic packaging which doesn’t meet a minimum threshold of at least 30% recycled content from April 2022, to encourage greater use of recycled plastic to tackle the problem of plastic waste and protect our environment.

Sharing and comments

Share this page


  1. Comment by Donna Mccormick posted on

    All supermarket carrier bags should be compostable

  2. Comment by Liz Butcher posted on

    To say the UK is a global leader in recycling can only be treated as a joke.

    Defra need to understand that the use of plastic bottles must be reduced - recycling only scratches the surface of the problem.

    Clean tap water supplied in as many points as possible so that people can fill their own bottles is the way forward as far as drinks are concerned.

    Products supplied in plastic bottles such as dishwashing liquid and detergents must been supplied in refillable containers; many firms now offer this and will deliver and collect. You must persuade the large polluters such as Unilever to look at these possibilities. However the products they sell are also bad for the environment and changes need to be made here too.

  3. Comment by Bethan Jones posted on

    Perhaps the government could also consider stopping the use of plastic for all frit and vegetables. Fruit and veg never used to packaged and proper green grocers sell un packed veg - so why cant supermarkets? Lets stop planning for a greener future at a distant date in the future and make decisions we can implement now and see the benefit imediately. Look how successful the plastic bag charging scheme was, we can surely go much further with a removal of ALL unnecessary plastic packaging and bags in fruit and veg - a s a starting point! This would be real change in real time. Perhaps our planet can not wait until 2030 for improvements to be seen!We should surely act NOW.

  4. Comment by RAYMOND HANSON posted on

    Very informative thank you

  5. Comment by Teri Browning posted on

    Ban polystyrene. The beaches are covered in it. The balls are smaller than nurdles and eaten by creatures. Then there's plastic balloons - chucked into the air to fall who knows where. I've picked some up 4 foot long and others full of plastic confetti. #2minutebeachclean #2minutelitterpick