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The Welsh Government wants to drastically reduce the number of bags given away in Wales. So from 1 October 2011, a minimum charge of 5p was introduced on all single use carrier bags.

You will be charged for a bag wherever you shop. But no one has to pay the charge. You can avoid the charge by taking your own bags shopping with you.

What is a single-use carrier bag?

Single use carrier bags are given out to help you take your shopping away. They are not made to be reused. Single use carrier bags can be made from:

  • plastic
  • paper or
  • plant based material such as starch.

Single use carrier bags can also be used for some internet deliveries.

What is the problem with single-use carrier bags?

Before the charge, when you went shopping, you were likely to be given at least one free bag. Then you were given another the next time. We tend to only use them once, which is a waste of resources and can become a litter problem.

80% of British shoppers used to put everything into free shopping bags. UK shoppers could go through as many as 60 bags a month. That’s 720 bags a year or more than 43,000 in an average lifetime!

Many single use carrier bags are made of oil based plastic, which is a non-renewable resource. Each plastic bag can take up to 500-1000 years to decompose, and may never break-down in landfill.

Paper bags are not an environmentally friendly alternative. They are still a waste of natural resources.

Even starch based biodegradable and fully compostable bags use natural resources. If these are only used for one trip and not composted, these are a bigger waste of resources than conventional plastic carrier bags.

Every single use carrier bag, no matter what it is made of, is a waste of resources as they all need:

  • raw materials to create them
  • energy to be produced – which creates emissions
  • to be transported and
  • to be disposed of.  

What happens to single-use carrier bags?

Many end up as litter. According to Keep Wales Tidy, 3.4 plastic bags were found in every kilogram of litter in Wales. That’s around 2.7% by weight of all litter. It cost Welsh local authorities an estimated £1million to clean up plastic bag litter every year.

86% of single use carrier bags end-up in landfill.

Reasons for the charge

During 2009-10, in Wales we took home an estimated 350 million carrier bags from major supermarkets. This is a staggering 273 bags per household! It doesn’t include the bags we receive when shopping at high street and smaller shops.

Members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) made a voluntary agreement to reduce the number of single-use carrier bags issued by 50% by May 2009 (compared to May 2006). The shops involved were:

  • Tesco
  • Asda
  • Marks & Spencer
  • Co-operative Group
  • Somerfield
  • Sainsbury Supermarkets
  • Waitrose.

Their August 2010 results showed that the voluntary target in Wales had been reached. But progress was slowing and we were still using far too many bags. UK carrier bag use actually increased between May 2009 and May 2010. July 2012 figures also showed that carrier bag use had increased again England and Northern Ireland whilst during 2011 it decreased in Wales.

Statistics released by the Welsh Government in July 2012 showed that 13 retailers had achieved reductions of 35 – 96% in the number of single use carrier bags.

UK data released by the Waste and Resource Action Programme (WRAP) in July 2013 showed that the demand for single use carrier bags had decreased by 81% from 2010 to 2012 in Wales. The rest of the UK saw an increase over the same period


For more information on Welsh Government policies on single-use carrier bags, please visit the Welsh Government website.

In July 2013, the Welsh Government published a behavioural study on the use and re-use of carrier bags.

Visit: Welsh Government’s web pages on single-use carrier bags (external link)

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