The plastic-bag charge: what you need to know

It's causing 'chaos' (haha) on social media but the new 5p charge for plastic bag does take a little while to work out...


There’s now more of an incentive to remember your ‘bag for life’ when you go shopping, as otherwise you’ll be charged 5p for each plastic bag you use.


Well, most of the time, anyway – it’s all actually a bit confusing.

The new charge has been introduced reduce plastic-bag use: 7.6 billion plastic bags were given out by major supermarkets in England last year – and that was 200 million more than in 2013. (England is actually last country in the UK to start charging for bags; Wales and Scotland have been doing it for ages.)

Plastic bags are not biodegradable and can remain in landfill for hundreds of years. Campaigners say they’re also damaging to wildlife and spoil the countryside. 

But the new charge in England doesn’t apply to all plastic bags in shops – so it’s not immediately easy to get your head around when you’ll be charged and when you won’t.

So, here’s the MadeForMums guide to not getting unexpected small-change demands in the bagging area… 

1. Supermarkets will charge you

From 5 October, you will be charged 5p for every new plastic bag you use at large stores in England. The charge only applies to shops big enough to have 250 or more full-time employees – so mainly just supermarkets. The easiest way to avoid the charge is to take some bags with you from home.

2. Local shops don’t have to charge you – but they still might

The compulsory charge only applies to bigger stores, so it’s up to the owner of your local corner shop whether she or he decides to hand out bags for free – or not.


3. You don’t have to pay for a bag if you’re buying meat, medicine or goldfish…

There is an official list of goods that don’t incur the plastic-bag charge (mainly because it would be unhygienic or dangerous not to put them in a bag). The lists includes:

  • Uncooked meat, poultry or fish
  • Prescription medicine
  • Goods contaminated by soil like potatoes or plants
  • Unwrapped loose seeds, flowers, bulbs etc.
  • Unwrapped ready-to-eat food, such as chips from the chippy
  • Live aquatic creatures in water
  • Unwrapped blades, including knives and razor blades

4. Home deliveries: you pay a flat free or get a ‘bagless’ delivery

Most supermarkets offering home delivery are now giving you the choice between a ‘bagless’ delivery (we assume they don’t just dump it all on the hall carpet and run…) or paying a standard flat fee for plastic bags.

5. Don’t panic!

Finally, we have to admit we think the panic over the plastic-bag charge in some newspapers is a bit daft, and we knew we could rely on Twitter to bring a much-needed a sense of humour to the occasion…

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