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The 5p plastic bag levy has resulted in an almost 80 per cent drop in the number of bags taken home by supermarket shoppers in England, the first data since the introduction of the charge suggests.

Early figures from Britain’s biggest retailer, Tesco, suggest the levy is succeeding in its aim of drastically reducing usage of single-use carrier bags, 7.6 billion of which were handed out by major English supermarkets last year alone.

In the month after the Government introduced the 5p charge on October 5, customers at Tesco stores used 78 per cent fewer single-use carrier bags, the retail giant told the Telegraph.

The reduction is even greater than the supermarket itself had expected and in line with the top-end of the Government’s estimates of the impact of the levy, the proceeds of which – less VAT – are to be given to good causes.

Rory Stewart, the environment minister, said he was “delighted” by the figures which showed “the 5p plastic bag charge is starting to have a real impact and is raising thousands for good causes”.

“Cutting the number of plastic bags we use is a small but vital step in reducing plastic waste. It will not only tidy up our towns and countryside, it will also help protect our precious beaches and sea life,” he said.

Tesco declined to say how many 5p bags had been bought from its stores, but its market share suggests it is likely to have handed out in excess of 2 billion single-use carrier bags in 2014 – or about 200 million bags a month.

Given the near-80 per cent drop in bag use, this implies customers in its stores may have paid for almost 50 million 5p bags in the first month since the charge came in.

Tesco said it has also seen a 50 per cent increase in the proportion of online shoppers selecting ‘bagless’ deliveries.
Rebecca Shelley, Tesco’s group communications director, said the charge had “clearly had a huge impact”.

A spokesman for the company said it was on track for its 5p bag sales to deliver £30 million to charity over the year, and appealed for charities and community groups to apply for grants.

Although it is too early to tell whether the impact seen by Tesco will be sustained and replicated at other retailers, the figures are in line with those reported following the introduction of charges in Wales and Scotland.

In Wales there was a 79 per cent drop in the number of plastic bags taken in the first three years following the charge coming into effect in 2011. Scotland, which introduced the charge in October last year and has also reported an 80 per cent drop , while the number of ‘bags for life’ used quadrupled.

(The Telegraph)