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Bag charge shows deposit return scheme ‘could work’

Researchers say the implementation of the plastic bag charge in England suggests that a deposit return scheme could also be successful.

Around 90% of people in England now take their own bags with them when food shopping compared with 70% before the charge was introduced last October, according to a Cardiff University report.

Fewer than one in 15 shoppers are now regularly taking single-use carrier bags at the checkout as opposed to a quarter before the charge.

Results also show an increase in support in England for the carrier bag charge since it was introduced, rising from 51% to 62%, as well as an increase in support for other potential waste reduction charges, such as a charge on plastic water bottles.

Support for a 5p plastic bag charge also increased during the same period in Wales and Scotland, where schemes had been launched earlier. Similar levels of support were observed in Scotland as in England (61%) and there were very high levels of support in Wales (80%).

The study also found that respondents became more supportive of other charges to reduce waste since England’s bag charge was introduced.

In particular, those who changed their opinion about the plastic bag charge also changed their opinion about other charges.

Professor Wouter Poortinga, who led the research, said: “Overall, our research has shown that the English carrier bag charge has had a strong and positive impact on people’s attitudes and behaviours, and that it successfully disrupted people using plastic bags.

“We’ve seen that the charge has become increasingly popular with the English population since it was introduced, and that it has changed attitudes towards waste policies as well.

“This suggests that similar policies could be successfully implemented, such as a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles or a charge on disposable coffee cups.”

The study also reveals significant increases in the number of people taking their own carrier bags to shops other than supermarkets.

For example, 50% of people now regularly take their own bags when shopping for clothes and healthcare products compared with only 1 in 10 people before the carrier bag charge was introduced.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was undertaken by researchers at the university’s Welsh School of Architecture, in conjunction with IPSOS Mori.

It combined a survey of more than 3,000 people in England, Wales and Scotland, a diary and interview study, and observations of shoppers exiting eight supermarkets in Cardiff and Bristol.

Meanwhile, supermarket Lidl UK has pledged to remove single-use plastic carrier bags from sale across all stores in England, Scotland and Wales from July next year.

It has always charged customers in the UK for carrier bags, but it will now withdraw its cheaper single-use option.

Defra reported in August that more than seven billion carrier bags were issued by seven leading retailers in 2014, but that fell to around half a billion in the six months after the charge was introduced in October 2015.

The 5p charge meant more than £29m had been donated to charities, it added.

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