British Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday proposed doubling the 5p charge on plastic bags to 10p. She also suggested that the charge should be extended to all shops, rather than just the larger stores (companies that have 250 or more employees) that currently have to charge for bags. Several of the large supermarket chains have already moved over to only offering 10p ‘bags for life’, rather than 5p single use bags.

Speaking in Kenya yesterday, Mrs May said “I want to leave a greener, healthier environment for future generations, but with plastic in the sea still set to treble we know we need to do more to better protect our oceans and eliminate this harmful waste.”

The 5p charge has been a great success in terms of changing consumer habits.  In England alone, we have used 13 billion fewer plastic bags in the last two years.  Extending the charge to all shops makes sense.  Small shops are responsible for giving out about 3 billion bags per year to shoppers.  This is a massive number, but it’s far fewer than the number of bags that large shops and supermarkets used to give away.  However, there are fears that smaller shops may be badly hit by having to introduce a charge for their plastic bags.  Environmental groups also argue that it would be better to move away from our use of plastics, rather than increasing charges to consumers and potentially damaging small businesses.

Alongside the new 10p charge, the government has also proposed a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles and bans on plastic stirrers, cotton bud sticks and straws, but all of these have yet to come into force.  However, the 5p charge has been in place since 5 October 2015 and a ban on plastic microbeads in cosmetic products has also come into force in January 2018.

Whilst we in the UK are beginning to react to the growing plastic crisis, countries like Kenya have already gone much further.   In fact either making or importing plastic bags in Kenya now results in a jail sentence!

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