From 21 May 2021, retailers of any size (large, medium, small, micro and airport retailers) must charge a minimum of 10 pence for single-use carrier bags in England. Retailers could be fined if they do not charge. Additional guidance is available for retailers in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Only large retailers are required to record and report the number of single-use carrier bags they sell in England. A large retailer employs 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year.
When selling and/or delivering goods in England, all retailers must charge for:
- non-reusable bags (single-use carrier bags).
- bags used for collections and deliveries.
The Government has posters and other materials you can download to let your customers and employees know about the new law.
Bags which must be charged for
All retailers must charge a minimum of 10p per bag (including VAT) for single-use carrier bags that are all of the following:
- unused - it’s new and has not already been used for sold goods to be taken away or delivered.
- plastic and 70 microns thick or less.
- it has handles, an opening and is not sealed.
In addition, retailers must do all they can to make sure that they charge for bags at self-service checkouts.
Bags which don’t have to be charged for
Some bags are exempt, so it is up to the retailer if they charge for these. Retailers are not required to charge for plastic bags that are solely used for:
- uncooked fish and fish products
- uncooked meat, poultry and their products
- unwrapped food for animal or human consumption - such as chips, or food in containers that aren’t secure enough to prevent leakage during handling
- unwrapped loose seeds
- bulbs, corms or rhizomes (roots, stems and shoots, such as ginger)
- goods contaminated by soil (like potatoes or plants)
- for unwrapped blades, including axes, knives, and knife and razor blades
- prescription medicine
- a service, where there is no sale of goods, for example, dry cleaning
- holding live fish or other aquatic creatures
- sealed transit bags used for alcohol and tobacco
- considered as sealed packaging for mail orders and click-and-collect orders
- used to give away free promotional material
Retailers do not have to charge if the bag only contains certain exempt items (above), but if other items are added then they must. As an example, you’re not required to charge for a bag containing an unwrapped blade and unwrapped loose seeds, but if you added a box of cornflakes then you would have to charge.
Returnable bags and bags for life
Retailers are not required to apply the 10 pence charge for:
- woven plastic bags.
- multiple reuse bags (bags for life), when replacing free of charge, if originally sold for 10 pence or more.
Retailers can still charge for these bags but do not need to record sales and proceeds as they do with single-use carrier bags. A returnable multiple reuse bag must be all of the following:
- sold for 10 pence or more.
- suitable for reuse.
- replaced free of charge if returned to the retailer when worn out.
Any retailer who 250 or more full-time equivalent employees (in total and not just in retail roles) in a year is classified as a “large retailer” and must record and report the number of single-use carrier bags they sell each year.
If your store is part of a franchise or symbol group (an independent retailer that shares a brand-name shop and products) you only count employees in your business, you do not count the franchise or symbol group as a whole.
Large retailers must keep a reporting year’s records for 3 years from 31 May in the following reporting year. They can be fined if they do not keep records.
Donating the proceeds
Once reasonable costs are deducted, it’s expected/hoped that retailers will donate all proceeds to good causes, particularly environmental causes. This is not a legal obligation and only large retailers have to keep records and report on this.
Local authorities can inspect retailers to check they are following the law. Inspectors can:
- visit shops or stores.
- make test purchases.
- speak to staff.
- demand records
Inspectors do not have to give a warning and can carry these out as ‘secret shopper’ exercises. If they find a problem they can:
- issue a non-compliance notice stating what the retailer must do to fix the problem.
- impose a fixed penalty.
- impose a variable penalty.
- order a retailer to publicise (such as adverts in local papers or posters in their store) that they’ve broken the law, what the penalty was and how they’re now complying.
Inspectors can order retailers to cover the cost of the investigation if they break the law.