Bag facts

Single use bags and plastic bags in particular are a menace to the amazing marine wildlife found in UK waters. Animals get entangled in them and mistake them for food. This can lead to infections, strangulation, starvation and even death. A charge is a simple, effective way to stop such a pervasive and ubiquitous form of pollution.

Here are some of the facts behind our campaign at the time when we were trying to convince English government to bring in a levy:

  • Over the past two years, the number of carrier bags used in England has increased despite repeated Government calls for retailers to reduce the numbers they give out.
  • Last year businesses in the UK issued plastic bags at a rate of 254 a second. A total of eight billion ‘thin-gauge’ plastic bags were issued during 2011 - a 5.4 per cent increase on the 7.6 billion bags issued in 2010 [1].
  • In Wales since the introduction of the 5p charge in October 2011, there have been falls of between 70% and 96% in the number of single-use bags issued. Public support in Wales for this charge has also grown to 70 per cent [2].
  • When Ireland introduced a plastic bag charge in 2002, plastic bag use fell by 90 per cent [3]. Before this charge was introduced, plastic bags made up five per cent of visible litter in Ireland - afterwards, it dropped to 0.32 per cent [4].
  • Last year MCS found 4,092 bags on beaches in one weekend alone accounting for 2.2% of all litter with an average density of 45.1 bags for every kilometre surveyed.
  • In 2011 David Cameron said about this issue: “Progress overall went backwards last year, and that is unacceptable. Retailers need to do better. I want to see significant falls again. I know that retailers want to do better too but if they don’t I will be asking them to explain why not [5].”

[1] WRAP, New figures on carrier bags use, 5 July 2012,
[2] Welsh Government, Written Statement – ‘An update on the single use carrier bags charge in Wales’, 4 July 2012,
[3] Irish Government, ‘Plastic Bag Levies: The Irish Experience’, 22 November 2011,
[4] See [2]
[5] Daily Mail 29 September 2011,