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Single Use Plastic carrier bag charge explained

10th April 2015

Cherry Whittaker

Defra are implementing the single use plastic carrier bag charge in England after much success in the rest of the UK and Ireland.

The legislation requires large retailers in England to apply a charge of at least 5p to single use carrier bags from 5 October 2015. It is hoped that the carrier bag charge will reduce the number of Plastic bags used in England, increase their re-use rate and reduce littering.

Single use plastic carrier bag charge: the facts

In 2013, supermarkets across the UK gave out over 8 billiion single use plastic carrier bags. That’s around 57,000 tonnes of single-use carrier bags in total and nearly 130 bags per person over the year.

Discarded Plastic bags are a visible form of littering and can cause injury to marine
wildlife. They also consume resources, including oil, in their creation and last for long periods of time in landfill sites.

Who will it affect?

All retailers who sell goods in or deliver goods to England are obligated to apply the single use plastic carrier bag charge.

However, you will only be required to apply the carrier bag charge if you have 250 or more full-time equivalent employees.

If your store is part of a franchise or symbol group (sharing a brand and products) you only count employees in your business, not the group as a whole.

What do you need to do?

  • Charge at least 5p per bag (including VAT) for appropriate bags
  • Make an effort to ensure that you are charging for self checkout bags
  • Keep a reporting year's record for 3 years from 31 May in the following reporting year*
  • Send records to Defra on or before 31 May following the end of the reporting year

*The reporting year runs from 5th October to 6th April. From 2016 onwards, it will run from 7 April to 6 April.

Bags charged for

You must apply the single use plastic carrier bag charge to bags that are:

  • Unused
  • Plastic
  • Bags with handles
  • 70 microns thick and less

Bags used in any delivery service must also incur a charge. You must charge for an average number of bags for multi-bag deliveries as long as 5p or more is charged per bag overall.

The carrier bag charge also applies to both home deliveries and click-and-collect (or similar) collections. To avoid applying the cost for deliveries, Defra have advised that retailers should consider offering customers bag less deliveries.

Bags not under the scope

You will not need to apply the carrier bag charge to bags that are used for:

  • Uncooked fish, meat, poultry and their products
  • Unwrapped food for animal or human consumption
  • Any goods contaminated by soul
  • Unwrapped blades
  • Prescription medicine
  • Live aquatic creatures in water
  • Goods in transport
  • Giving away free promotional material
  • A service where there is no sale of goods

You also do not need to charge for woven plastic bags, those considered as sealed packaging and returnable multiple use bags (bags for life).

Super biodegradable bags

There are currently no exemptions for biodegradable bags. However, Defra is considering an exemption to encourage development of a new, genuinely biodegradable and more environmentally friendly bag.

This may be introduced as an amendment at a later date. A report from Defra
regarding a new biodegradable bag will be submitted to Parliament by 5 October 2015.

Reporting and records

It is your responsibility to send records to Defra annually. Contact details must also be supplied. Records must be sent to Defra by 31 May following the end of the reporting year.

Members of the public can request copies of carrier bag records. You must provide these within 28 days.

Keeping records

For the whole reporting year, you must keep a record of:

  • The number of bags supplied
  • The gross and net proceeds of the charge
  • Any VAT in the gross proceeds
  • What you did with the proceeds from the charge
  • Any reasonable costs and how they break down

Dealing with the proceeds

Once reasonable costs have been deducted, it is expected that all proceeds will be donated to a good cause. For example, proceed donations in Northern Ireland have enabled the development of local environmental projects.

Reasonable costs

Reasonable costs are new costs incurred from complying with the legislation. This could include:

  • The cost of changing till systems
  • Training staff
  • Communicating the policy to staff and customers
  • Getting expert advice
  • Administering donations to good causes

Existing costs can't be included. Reasonable costs will likely reduce after the first year.

Inspections and enforcement

In most cases, it is the local authority where your shop is based that will ensure that you are following the law. For deliveries, the relevant local authority is the one where the goods are dispatched from is sent and delivered within England. If the goods are delivered from outside England, it is the local authority where the goods are received.

Local authorities can visit stores at reasonable times and make test purchases. Staff can be questioned and relevant documentation can be demanded.

Non-compliance and fines

Your local authority will publish details of fine levels and circumstance on their website. You will be fined if you:

  • Don't charge at least 5p for appropriate bags
  • Don't keep records
  • Don't supply records
  • Mislead on how you're complying with the law

If found to be non-compliant, local authorities can:

  • Issue a non-compliant notice with steps that must be taken to correct a breach
  • Impose a fixed penalty
  • Impose a discretionary penalty
  • Order you to advertise that you've broken the law, what the penalty was and how you are now complaint
  • Recover the cost of the investigation from you if you breech the law

Fixed and variable fines

Both fixed and variable fines are:

  • Reduced by 50% if you pay within 28 days
  • Increased by 50% if you don't pay within 28 days

Local authorities are not able to impose a variable fine if a fixed fine has already been levied for the same issue (unless a non-compliance notice has been issued).

Local authorities can impost non-monetary requirements, such as making you publicise that you've breached the law. Failure to comply can lead to a fine of up to £5,000, in addition to any other penalties.

Appeals and objections

You can object within 28 days of being issued a penalty notice if you feel that is was wrong, unreasonable or based on error. You can also appeal if you feel that the non-monetary requirement is unreasonable or if the variable penalty is too high.

Next steps

It is important to make a start now to ensure that you have everything in place by 5 October 2015.

If you would like any further information about the single use plastic carrier bag charge and getting started, please do not hesitate to get in touch with our Packaging experts.

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