How to beat the plastic carrier bag charge

I’m drowning in plastic bags. I counted 57 before I gave up. We’ve all got too many, so anything to make us stop using them – like the 5p charge introduced nearly two years ago – is a good thing.

Yesterday I was invited to speak on the Eddie Nestor show on BBC Radio London (I’m 1hr 35mins in if you want to listen). The topic… plastic bags. Yup, the charge for using bags is in the news again as Tesco scraps single use bags in its shops from the end of August, replacing them with 10p “Bags for life”.

I actually think this is ok. I have more disposable bags stuffed at the back of a cupboard that I’ll ever use – and that’s mainly from online shopping. So if people are still buying them at a supermarket rather than bringing reusable bags, imagine just how many they have!

Apparently, an average of 133 carrier bags are given out to each person each year before the charge started in October 2015 – that’s a crazy amount. Now, use of these bags has apparently dropped by 85% as a result of charging people.

I think this is a GOOD THING. Money raised from sales doesn’t go into supermarket coffers. Instead profits are put to charitable use. Plus the fewer bags made and bought, the less plastic we have filling refuse sites.

However, even though I’m now used to the charge, it still annoys me that I have to shell out at the till when I know I’ve dozens of bags at home. Worse are the ones when you shop online when if you need bags you have no choice but to pay,

So what can you do about it? Here’s when you will and (possibly) won’t be charged:

How I avoid the charge

This isn’t brain surgery. I’ve picked up plenty of canvas tote bags over the years and I’ve always got a couple at the bottom of my backpack which is with me most days I head to the office. Plus we’ve got half a dozen in the back of the car.

My wife Becky has a thin but strong reusable bag which folds up into a little pouch (a bit like this one). These are really small and easily fit in a handbag or even a coat pocket.

If you’ve got the stronger “Bags for Life” from supermarkets, most will replace them for a new one free of charge – worth doing if they’re getting a little rough and ready.

Online can prove to be more difficult. Most supermarkets charge a flat rate for bags of around 40p per order, whether you have four or 14 bags. I really hate this. Not just for the charge, but for the fact I’m adding to my pointless collection of bags I really don’t want!

To combat this I’ve started ordering bagless deliveries. When the driver arrives I bring an empty box and a few canvas bags to the front door and he unloads the items into these, which I carry through to the kitchen. It’s only a minute of extra hassle, but worth it.

>> Find out which online supermarkets charge for bags – and which will give you a refund

When you don’t have to pay for a bag

Even though I think the bag charge is a good thing, it’s worth knowing there are a few exceptions to the rules.

You don’t have to pay for a bag if the bag…

  • contains ONLY raw meat or fish
  • contains ONLY unpackaged seeds, roots, fruit and vegetables that could have soil on it (e.g. potatoes, ginger)
  • has no handles (do you ever see these?)
  • is made of paper

or if the shop

  • is in an airport or on a train, boat or plane
  • offers a service rather than a product (e.g. dry cleaning)
  • is a small independent shop (though they can charge if they want)
  • employs under 250 people across the entire business (England and Northern Ireland only)
>> Check out the latest supermarket deals I’ve found from across the web

3 thoughts on “How to beat the plastic carrier bag charge

  1. I read that supermarkets with their name on them cant charge in fact any shop

  2. Unfortunately Primark charge for their bags – made of paper!

    1. Really? That’s bad! Though I’ve just looked further into this and if you’re anywhere other than England the charge can be applied for paper bags


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