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UK Plastic Bag Charges Explained: Do You Need to Charge for Carrier Bags?

On 21st May 2021, the UK Government changed the laws on UK plastic bag charges. Read on to find out if you need to start charging — or charging more — for plastic bags in your store. 

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How much to charge for plastic bags

The law now states that all retailers (no matter their size), must charge 10p for each plastic carrier bag that meets the following criteria: 

  • Is unused. It haven’t already been used to carry goods in 
  • Is plastic, and 70 microns thick (or less). For context, supermarket single use bags are normally somewhere around 20 microns. 
  • Has handles, an opening, and is not sealed. So basically, it’s actually a bag. 

There are some exceptions listed on the government website, such as bags containing food (that could reasonably be expected to leak out of its containers, or live fish). Shops also do not have to charge for paper bags.

Do you need to report on plastic bag usage?

While all businesses need to charge for single use carrier bags, only large businesses need to report on how many they sell. 

But how do you know whether or not you’re a large business? There’s a simple formula for working this out. We say simple… it’s actually a bit of a pain. We’ve copied it here straight from the website: 

  1. Work out how many hours a full-time employee would work in a year (for example 40 hours by 52 weeks is 2,080).
  2. Multiply this by the amount of full-time workers there for the full year (for example 200 workers by 2,080 is 416,000).
  3. Work out part-time and seasonal workers’ hours by multiplying their weekly hours by the weeks worked (for example 100 workers by 20 hours by 10 weeks, added to 100 workers by 40 hours by  25 weeks is 20,00 plus 100,000, giving 120,000).
  4. Add the full-time and part-time or seasonal workers’ hours together (for example 416,000 plus 120,000 is 536,000).
  5. Divide this by the amount of hours a full-time employee would work in a year (for example 536,000 divided by 2,080 is 257.7).

This basically means the equivalent of 250 full-time employees. So if you know you’re way under that, there’s no need to report on your plastic bag usage. 

However if you are a large retailer, you’ll need to report on a number of different factors, including how many single use plastic bags you supplied, how much profit you made from them, and what you did with this money (it’s expected that you donate it to a good cause, preferably an environment-related one).

Our thoughts on the change

It’s really important that small businesses take notice of this new law change, and start charging 10p for single use plastic bags. If you are found to not be doing this, you’ll receive a fine of between £200 and £5,000, so make sure all staff are aware of this change. 

Otherwise, we don’t see this having a huge impact on UK stores. Customers are already very used to paying for plastic bags, and the initial 5p charge was very effective in encouraging people to carry reusable options with them. If anything, see this as an opportunity. Shoppers may be more open to purchasing nice, reusable options at the point of purchase. You could get some branded bags made, or browse the selection of canvas totes we have here at CREOATE (and remember you can return any you don’t sell in 60 days, provided you haven’t bought from that brand before).

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