Public behind plastic bag charge as support for anti-litter measure increases

Charities call for universal charge as poll shows public confusion over limited regulations

BTBHAs the Government collects carrier bag usage statistics for the first time today, a poll has revealed increased public support for the bag charge in England [1].

The ICM-conducted poll for the Break the Bag Habit coalition found that 70% of English respondents now find it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags – an 8% increase in support in the eight months since the English charge came into force [2]. The increase was particularly marked amongst younger people, where support has jumped 10% [3].

Despite this encouraging news, the poll indicated that more people find the current charge confusing than not. The charge, introduced on 5 October 2015, does not apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags or franchises such as Subway. Answering the ICM survey, 42% of respondents found it confusing that only some shops charged for bags.

An ICM poll last October found that respondents in Scotland and Wales, where universal bag charges have significantly reduced usage, are very supportive of a scheme that applies to all retailers: 66% in Scotland and 70% in Wales [4]. By contrast, public appetite in England for a universal charge is notably lower in 2016, with 53% agreeing the charge should apply to all retailers (a 2% increase on 2015) and 27% agreeing that it should extend to all bags, including paper bags.

Samantha Harding, spokesperson for the Break the Bag Habit coalition, said:

“We fully expect the forthcoming Government statistics to show a significant decrease in the number of bags people use, reflecting the strong public support for the charge.

“At the same time, people are clearly confused by the current scope of the charge. A universal scheme that applies to all bags and all retailers will eliminate confusion, boost public support, and most importantly reduce bag usage and litter.

“With a frankly ridiculous £1 billion litter bill, England is lagging behind the other home nations. Now that the scheme has been successfully launched, the Government should review the exemptions and introduce a universal charge.”

The BTBH coalition started campaigning in 2012 for a bag charge scheme that would reduce litter and bag usage across England. Home nations have had universal bag charges or taxes since 2011; carrier bag usage in Northern Ireland dropped 81% between 2010 and 2014 [5].

There have been questions from the press and public about where the money from the charge goes. Nearly three quarters of respondents to the 2016 survey (74%) supported the idea of using it specifically for a national anti-litter programme.



Notes to Editors

[1] The 2016 poll was conducted by ICM on 11th of May 2016. ICM interviewed a random sample of 2000 GB adults, including 1742 in England, aged 18+ online. The results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. ICM is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information is available at

[2] The Break the Bag Habit coalition consists of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Greener Upon Thames, Keep Britain Tidy, Surfers Against Sewage and Thames21. The coalition has long worked towards the introduction of a carrier bag charge scheme in England.

Details of the 2015 poll are available here (30 September 2015).

[3] Survey respondents aged 18-24.

[4] See BTBH-ICM poll from 2015.

Bag usage in Wales declined 78 % between 2010 and 2014; in Scotland, usage decreased 13% between 2013 and 2014, despite the universal charge only coming into force in October 2014. WRAP figures, 24 July 2015.

[5] Northern Ireland introduced a single use carrier bag charge in April 2013. WRAP figures, 24 July 2015.