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Carrier bag control

Climate change legislation providing for compulsory charging of single use carrier bags applies throughout the United Kingdom. For a review of UK policy and legislation, see GOV.UK

In respect of England, Northern ireland and Wales, the principal legislation is contained in the Climate Change Act 2008. Regulations about charging by sellers of goods for the supply of single use carrier bags may be made in England by the UK government and in Northern Ireland and Wales by the national governments.

In Scotland, the Scottish Parliament has enacted the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009 and the Scottish government may make regulations under that Act.

Comment: one the more dubious merits of devolution of powers to the four UK nations is that each nation is free to adopt different regulations in this area. The detailed regulations are different, but most notably only in England will there be an exemption for sellers employing less than 250 employees.

It may be that legislation will be made at EU level. The EU Commission carried out a consultation exercise in 2011 and its results are being the time off writing..


A mandatory charge of five pence for single use carrier bags will be introduced in England from autumn 2015. There are also plans to incentivise businesses for bringing biodegradable plastic bags to market, with potential exemptions from the charge if the bags meet the required criteria.

The Single Use Carrier Bags Charges (England) Order 2015 are due to come into force on 5 October 2014, subject to Parliamentary approval.

A ‘single use carrier bag’ (SUCB) means an unused bag made of lightweight plastic material with handles, other than certain excluded bags. ‘Lightweight’ means having a thickness not greater than 70 microns. Excluded bags are defined and are certain bags intended to be used solely: for unwrapped food, uncooked meat, fish or poultry or their products, unwrapped loose, flowers or goods contaminated by soil; to contain ¬†prescription-only or pharmacy medicines; or to contain live aquatic creatures in water.

Also excluded are returnable multiple reuse bags, and woven plastic bags (as defined).

Sellers (as defined) of goods in England will be required to charge a minimum of 5p (including VAT) for the provision of an SUCB. Sellers within the scope of the Order are those who employ 250 or more ‘full-time equivalent employees’ on the first day of a reporting year. The number of full-time equivalent employees is calculated by the formula TH/37.5 where TH is the total number of hours per week for which all the employees of the person are contracted to work.

Sellers will be required to keep certain records for each reporting year and supply copies to the Secretary of State and to members of the public who ask for them. The Secretary of State must publish the records. The first reporting year will be 5 October 2015 and will end on 6 April 2016; subsequent reporting years will be any year beginning on 7 April in one year and ending on 6 April the following year.

Northern Ireland

The Single Use Carrier Bags Act (Northern Ireland) 2011 amended the Climate Change Act to permit the Northern Irish government to require sellers to pay the proceeds of any charges to the government. The Single Use Carrier Bags Charge Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2013 made under the Act come into force on 8 April 2013 and will retailers to charge customers a minimum of five pence for each single use carrier bag which is supplied to them, subject to certain exceptions.

What’s new item on this topic [see What’s new page or archive for full item]:

28/04/2014: Carrier bag charge extended in Northern Ireland

The Carrier Bags Act (Northern Ireland) 2014 introduces charging arrangements for a wider variety of carrier bags in Northern Ireland, in particular the cheaper versions of reusable bags. Since April 2013 customers have been charged for single use carrier bags, but it has been decided the charging arrangements need to be extended because there are also a wide range of low cost reusable carrier bags. It is thought consumers will opt to use these reusable carrier bags and discard them prematurely, as they are often the same as or a similar price to the single use bags, and thereby cause significant environmental detriment.

The charge applies to single-use bags made from plastic, paper, plant-based materials or natural starch. A proposed rise to 10p in April 2014 was cancelled, as the charge had been so successful. The proceeds from the charge go to the Northern Ireland Department of the Environment.

For further information, see the pages.


Following a consultation in 2012, the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 (SSI 2014/161) were made under the Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

Retailers in Scotland are required to charge customers at least 5p for most single use carrier bags as of 20 October 2014. The main driving force behind the Regulations is the requirement to reduce litter in Scotland under the Scotland Zero Waste Plan.

The charge applies to single use bags of any material, not just plastic. All retailers are required to charge, not just supermarkets, however smaller businesses are exempt from the requirement to report centrally the numbers of bags sold and how much they have given to charity to minimise administrative burdens. These businesses are expected to make some form of public statement of this information on their premises such as a poster for customers to see.

Some types of bags are exempt, mainly for health and safety reasons and privacy such as bags for prescriptions, certain fresh foods (including fruit, unpackaged meat of or fish) and unpackaged blades.

For further information, visit


In Wales, the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010 (2010 No 2880 (W 238)) came into force on 1 October 2011. The regulations require all retail sellers of goods to charge 5p per bag. There are certain exemptions. Sellers which employ 10 or more staff must keep certain records.

The charge includes paper bags and applies to all organisations (including SMEs). The legislation empowers the Welsh government to require proceeds to be applied to certain objects. However, the Welsh government has a voluntary agreement with retailers under which the proceeds of the charge are given to good causes..

Further information is available from:

[Page updated: 19/12/2014]

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