Public support and voluntary business participation points to English bag charge success
On the eve of a new charge in England for plastic bags from major retailers, a poll commissioned by Surfers Against Sewage and our Break The Bag Habit coalition partners has shown public support for a universal bag charging scheme .
The ICM-conducted poll found that 62% of English respondents thought it reasonable to charge 5p for all carrier bags – a 6% increase on a similar poll from 2012 . The 2015 poll also found that more than half of the respondents (51%) were in support of a charge that applied to all retailers, and that those who do more of the grocery shopping are more likely to support a charge .
The Break The Bag Habit coalition has campaigned since 2012 for the introduction of this scheme, which will begin on 5 October and aims to reduce litter and bag usage across the country. However, the charge does not currently apply to businesses of fewer than 250 employees, paper bags, or franchises such as Subway. The Association of Convenience Stores has long argued that many of its members are in favour of the charge. Many have already implemented it voluntarily for commercial and environmental reasons (case study below).
The ICM poll found that respondents in Scotland and Wales, where universal bag charges have significantly reduced usage , are considerably more supportive of a scheme that applies to all retailers: 66% in Scotland support this, as do 70% in Wales.
Break The Bag Habit members believes that this indicates the English public will embrace the new charge, and get behind calls to bring England in line with the rest of the UK. It hopes that England can soon replicate the success of home nations including Northern Ireland, where carrier bag usage has dropped 84% since 2012 .
Andy Cummins, SAS Campaigns Director, said:
“After several years of campaigning for a bag charge we welcome the Government’s decision to introduce a 5p charge for England, starting with major retailers and plastic bags. This new poll demonstrates strong public support for a more comprehensive scheme, inline with the other home nations, that effectively tackles more of the bag litter that blights our countryside and coastlines.
We hope the Government follows the responsible and successful example set by the other home nations and implement a universal scheme that radically reduces usage and saves money. Reducing the numbers of bags given out will reduce the amount of litter across the country.”
Jackie and Julian Taylor-Green run a successful Spar franchise in the village of Lindford in East Hampshire. Serving a community of around 3,000 people, they have voluntarily charged for carrier bags for the past four years. The money they raise is donated to the local school, which uses it to buy books and other items the children need.
Their motivation to charge voluntarily has been two-fold. They are committed to responsible retailing and do not want to promote products, like carrier bags, that can be misused. They also recognise that providing carrier bags was a phenomenal cost to their business.
Julian says: “I introduced a charge because it was the right thing to do – both for my business and the environment. It would be much easier for shoppers and retailers if there was a consistent approach across England and I would definitely support a universal charge.”
 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.
 The 2015 poll was conducted by ICM on 16 September 2015. ICM interviewed a random sample of 2012 GB adults, including 1739 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 www.icmresearch.co.uk.
Details of the 2012 poll are available here (21 September 2012).
 The survey found that 63% of adults in England who do half or more of the grocery shopping supported a charge for any single use carrier bag, opposed to 57% of respondents who did less than half the grocery shopping. The survey also found above average support amongst those who do half or more of the grocery shopping (52%) for all retailers to be involved.
 Bag usage in Wales has declined 78 % since 2010; 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.