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Since 1 October 2011, there has been a minimum charge of 5p on all single use carrier bags (including paper bags).

The carrier bag charge was introduced to dramatically reduce the number of carrier bags used in Wales. This charge will affect all retailers in Wales, not just those who sell groceries.

The 5p charge should be enough to influence consumer behaviour and reduce the number of bags given out without putting an unnecessary burden on shoppers, or preventing impulse shopping.

It’s important to remember that no one has to pay the charge. It can simply be avoided by customers reusing their bags.

Why introduce the charge?

During 2009 in Wales we took home an estimated 350 million carrier bags from the major supermarkets alone. This is a staggering 273 bags per household, and does not include the bags we pick up when shopping at high street stores and smaller shops.

Members of the British Retail Consortium (BRC) including Tesco, Asda, Marks & Spencer, Co-op, Somerfield, Sainsbury and Waitrose made a voluntary agreement to reduce the number of single-use carrier bags issued by 50% by May 2009 (compared to May 2006).

The results were published in the summer of 2009, and showed a 49% decrease of single-use plastic bags in Wales. The British Retailers Consortium August 2010 figures showed that although the Welsh voluntary target had been met, progress was slowing.

This is why the Welsh Government introduced a charge.

What is a single-use carrier bag?

A single-use carrier bag is a bag that is not designed for substantial reuse and are often given out with the aim of transporting your goods home for just one trip. These are most often plastic bags but can also include paper bags too.

Why reduce the number of single-use carrier bags?  

Single-use bags have not been around forever, but they have become part of our everyday life. The problem is that we tend to only use them once for shopping, which means they are wasted and can become a litter problem.

  • It is estimated that UK shoppers go through 13,000 carrier bags in their lifetimes (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs).
  • 80% of British shoppers put everything into free shopping bags. 
  • In Wales, that amounts to approximately 480 million single-use plastic bags every year. 
  • That’s about 150 plastic bags per person!
  • Plastic bags are usually made of polyethylene which is not bio-degradable.
  • And as well as taking energy and emissions to produce, each plastic bag can take up to 500-1000 years to decompose.
  • Even if they are biodegradable and fully compostable, they still represent a waste of resources.

What you can do

Help your customers remember

One of the main problems is that it is easy for people to forget to take their reusable bag to the shops with them. Especially if it is an unplanned trip or if it is a non-food item that is being purchased. In a 2005 survey 40% of respondent shoppers claim to have bought a Bag for Life but only 13% reuse their bag for life all of or most of the time (WRAP 2005).

Use our retailer’s materials to help remind your customers. With it you can:

  • Display posters to remind people not to take a single-use bag, but to use reusable bags instead; 
  • Display factsheets on why you are taking action to reduce single-use bags; and
  • Use in-store radio channels and tannoy systems to remind customers to use reusable bags.

Make reusable bags more appealing and encourage reuse

  • Sell attractive, durable and practical reusable bags so that customers have a choice; 
  • Take plastic and other single-use bags off your till points so that customers have to ask if they can have one; and
  • Have incentives for customers who bring their own bag into the shop.


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)

Useful links

Waste Awareness Wales 

Here you will find information about other ways to reduce or recycle your waste.  

Visit: Waste Awareness Wales (external link)

Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) 

WRAP helps individuals, businesses and local authorities to reduce waste and recycle more.

Visit: Waste and Resources Action Programme (external link)

British Retail Consortium 

The British Retail Consortium is the lead trade association representing retailers.

Visit: British Retail Consortium (external link)