10p plastic bag charge: ministers must expand scheme

Press release
Plastic bags “just a tiny drop in a heavily polluted ocean”, says Friends of the Earth
  Published:  24 May 2021    |      2 minute read
  • Government urged to set legally-binding targets to reduce unnecessary plastic pollution
  • Plastic bags “just a tiny drop in a heavily polluted ocean”, says Friends of the Earth

The increase in the price that shoppers will have to pay for single-use plastic bags, rising from 5p to 10p, has been welcomed by Friends of the Earth. The new charge, which comes into force today, Friday 21st May 2021, will be extended to all retailers for the first time. Previously, the 5p levy did not apply to smaller businesses such as convenience stores and off licences.

However, the scheme still has a number of significant shortcomings. The environmental campaign group has joined growing calls for the government to take a more ambitious approach to waste, by extending the charge to paper carrier bags, and introducing new rules to stem the growing problem of ‘bags for life’. Some retailers have reported substantial increases in sales of long-life bags - which contain more plastic - since ending the availability of free single-use plastic carrier bags in their stores.

But plastic bags are just a small part of a much bigger plastic problem. Friends of the Earth is calling for stronger government commitment on plastic, including legally-binding targets to phase out the use of all unnecessary single-use plastic products, as part of the upcoming Environment Bill.

Friends of the Earth plastics campaigner, Camilla Zerr, said:

“It seems that many plastic ‘bags for life’ are being used just once, and not re-used for the bag’s lifetime, as is their purpose. So while the increased charge for single-use bags should see good results, it won’t fix bigger problems.

“That’s because plastic bags are a drop in a heavily polluted ocean.

“If ministers want to get to the root of this problem, they need to take a tougher stand against all single-use plastics and support re-use and refill. For too long, government has allowed a piecemeal approach which is why targets that are legally binding are now needed, and urgently. It’s these combined changes that will stop wasteful plastic in the first place.”

Friends of the Earth is a member of Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link) which has a briefing on the plastic bag charge and need for reform.

Tell the UK government that we need a new law to phase out plastic pollution.

Friends of the Earth is also calling for:

  • Legally-binding targets to reduce plastic pollution to be included in the Environment Bill (as outlined in New Clause 11). The Environment Bill is due back in Parliament after the Queen’s Speech on the 11th May.
  • Government and businesses to do far more to challenge the throwaway culture by prioritizing a circular economy through waste reduction, refill and reuse.
  • A Deposit Return Scheme for all drink containers (bottles, cans and cartons) to be introduced in 2023 as originally planned – not 2024.
  • An increase in drinking water fountains and water refill stations to reduce plastic bottle use.


  1. To avoid the negative environmental impacts of a simple substitution of one single-use material for another, England should consistently apply the charge to paper bags too. In Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, most types of paper bags are included in the charge. For more information, read the briefing from Wildlife and Countryside Link (Link)