Thousands of small retailers in England have agreed to charge customers 5p for a plastic bag from next month, even though they are exempt from legislation.
The single-use bag charge is being extended to England on 5 October, having been introduced in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
While the existing schemes apply to all retailers, the English version will not include companies employing fewer than 250 staff.
But at least 8,000, about 16%, of England’s village stores, newsagents and corner shops plan to introduce a charge voluntarily, according to the Association of Convenience Stores (ACS), and some have started already.
The Break The Bag Habit coalition, of which Keep Britain Tidy is a member, campaigned for the single-use bag charge to be introduced with no exemptions, and it continues to lobby for a stronger bag charge in England.
An ACS spokesman said: “If the Government was fully committed to reducing carrier bags, it would have introduced a universal scheme. We have lobbied hard on behalf of small retailers that we want to be included – it is frustrating that the Government has not listened to us.”
The Government says it would be costly and unfair to force the charge on to SMEs.
The Welsh scheme was the first to be introduced, in 2011. Initial figures suggest the 5p charge in Scotland has been even more effective since it was introduced just under a year ago, with single-use bag usage falling by more than 80%.
Large retailers in England will charge customers 5p for each plastic bag from 5 October. Small retailers are not covered by the rules, but they can voluntarily ask customers to pay.
Exemptions include bags used for uncooked fish and meat, unwrapped seeds and flowers, and knives.
Defra is still considering whether bags created from biodegradable plastics will be exempt from the charge.