The law requiring larger retailers to charge for single-use plastic carrier bags comes into force today.
Large shops in England will have to charge 5p for single-use plastic bags in an attempt to encourage people to reuse bags and reduce litter.
Defra said it expected to see a reduction in the use of single-use plastic carrier bags by up to 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.
The new rule applies to retailers with 250 or more employees. Smaller businesses do not have to charge for bags, but some have said they will do so voluntarily.
The charge aims to encourage the use of reusable ‘bags for life’, which are paid for once and can be returned for a free replacement when they wear out.
Retailers can do what they wanted with the proceeds from the charge but are expected to donate the money to good causes. Retailers will need to report what they do with the cash and this will be published every year.
The department estimated that the charge would bring a benefit of more than £780m to the UK economy during the next 10 years.
Environment minister Rory Stewart said: “Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have seen a dramatic fall in the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and we can expect a significant reduction in England, possibly by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.”
Keep Britain Tidy chief executive, Allison Ogden-Newton said: “This is the first government action in a decade that is specifically designed to tackle our country’s litter issue. We hope the charge will see a significant reduction in the use, and subsequent littering, of plastic bags.”
The Government has published a policy paper explaining the charge.
It will not apply to paper bags, or to shops in airports, on trains, aeroplanes or ships. Bags containing certain items, such as unwrapped food, raw meat and fish, where there is a food safety risk, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers or live fish, will also be exempt.
The Government said there was currently no exemption for biodegradable plastic bags, but it was reviewing industry standards for the biodegradability of lightweight plastics. It added that it needed to be sure that such bags could be identified and separated during the waste management and recycling process.
Defra said that more than 7.6 billion single-use plastic bags were given to customers by major supermarkets in England last year.
Similar 5p charges are already in place across Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The scheme in Wales saw a reduction in plastic bag consumption of 79% in its first three years.