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Carriers Bag Charges Across the UK

13th February 2017

When the carrier bag charges came into force across England in late 2015 there was a lot of unease amongst consumers about how this would pan out. However, in other parts of the British Isles, similar legislation had been in place as early as 2002. Since 2002, all countries in the UK have implemented a similar charge to the consumer for single use carrier bags. Not only has a large reduction been seen in the sales of single use carrier bags, but the fees and levies have created a source of revenue to a large range of charities. 

The first part of the British Isles to bring in the legislation was the Republic of Ireland. In 2002, they began imposing a levy of €0.15 on all single use plastic carrier bags. This has since been increased to €0.22. It was decided that all retailers (no matter what size) would be affected by this and it is thought that the levy has led to a 90% decrease in the quantity of plastic bags in circulation in Ireland.

It took a further nine years before any other part of the British Isles chose to adopt a similar legislation. In October 2011, Wales implemented a 5p fee on both paper and plastic single use carrier bags. The main driving force for this was to dramatically reduce the number of carrier bags used in Wales. Northern Ireland and Scotland followed suit in 2013 and 2014 respectively, with very similar 5p charges to those in Wales.

England was the last country to impose legislation regarding single use carrier bags in October 2015 – 13 years after Ireland! However, the scope of the English legislation does not cover as much as any of the others across the British Isles. The 5p fee in England only covers single use plastic carrier bags, and all paper bags are exempt from the fee. On top of this, all businesses that employ fewer than 250 people are exempt from the legislation. It is yet to be seen if these small changes to the legislation to a narrower scope, will mean that there is a smaller reduction in single use carrier bags compared to other countries in the British Isles. See also our blog post about early results following the new English legislation.


Northern Ireland
Republic of Ireland