Plastic bag revolution pioneered in Norfolk sweeps the nation- with six billion fewer bags used

All shops in England are set to begin charging 10p for plastic bags by the end of the month. Chris Radburn/PA Wire

All shops in England are set to begin charging 10p for plastic bags by the end of the month. Chris Radburn/PA Wire - Credit: PA

The dividend of Britain's plastic bag-free revolution is unveiled today with figures which show billions fewer carriers are being used, with millions of pounds going to charity.

The plastic bag charge unveiled by the coalition government and introduced last year came after the north Norfolk town of Aylsham was one of those leading the way in trying to change shopping habits in 2008.

Government figures published today show the country's shoppers will take home six billion fewer bags, and the 5p charge at retail giants has raised £29m raised for charity, with many projects locally giving money.

Locally, money from plastic bags has gone to the Broads Authority which got £12,000 for their Go Wild at Whitlingham project; another £8,000 went to the Damgate Wood path upgrade by the Acle Lands Trust.

Mattishall Parish Council got £12,000 for its defibrillator.

Aylsham bin the plastic bag.

Aylsham bin the plastic bag. - Credit: Colin Finch

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The Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs said the amount of bags saved was the equivalent weight of roughly 300 blue whales, 300,000 sea turtles or three million pelicans.

Environment minister and Suffolk MP Therese Coffey said: 'Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us – it will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won't be saddled with mountains of plastic taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites.

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'The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success – not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefitted from an impressive £29 million raised.

'It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use.'

Market Place, AylshamAylsham goes plastic bag free.

Market Place, AylshamAylsham goes plastic bag free. - Credit: Colin Finch

More than seven billion carrier bags were issued by the seven main supermarkets in 2014, falling to just over half a billion in the first six months of the 5p charge for single use carrier bags, introduced in October 2015.

Dr Sue Kinsey, technical specialist for waste at the Marine Conservation Society, said: 'We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results. This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular.

'There is always more that we can do and we encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean.'

Around eight million tonnes of plastic makes its way into oceans each year, posing a serious threat to our natural and marine environment – experts estimate that plastic is ingested by 31 species of marine mammals and more than 100 species of sea birds.

From last October all shops with 250 or more full-time employees had to charge a minimum of 5p for the single use plastic carrier bags they provide for shopping in store and for deliveries. Smaller shops are able to charge on a voluntary basis.

Norfolk town that helped to bring in plastic bag ban

Aylsham was the first town in the county to go plastic bag-free in May 2008.

The ban on plastic carriers was brought in as part of the town's Cittaslow status, which works to make the town a greener, happier and slower place to live.

Businesses in Aylsham promoted the use of paper and bio-degradable bags instead.

Shoppers responded enthusiastically to the launch of the plastic bag free zone eight years ago, arriving with an array of re-usable alternatives.

The move followed the footsteps of Modbury in Devon which introduced Europe's's first plastic bag ban in 2007.

Aylsham Business and Enterprise Forum launched an eco-friendly bag for life to promote the initiative which was initially backed by more than 70 traders.

The majority of businesses had signed up to the campaign to provide alternatives to plastic bagging within the first two years.

A fish and chip shop, florist, jewellers, a pub and pet shop were amongst the first tranche of traders to pledge support.

Electrical retailer JB Postle was also one of the first businesses sign up for the scheme. Company director Nicola Filby said: 'Many shoppers were initially not aware of the difference between bio-degradable and plastic bags. Now when people go shopping they are used to bringing their own bags into town.

'Even the butcher's shop stopped using plastic to wrap meat.

'Everybody went about it in their own way and it has been a great success. I think Aylsham is a very forward thinking place.'

Analysis: How our habits have changed

Haven't we all done it? Walked home from the shop brandishing a packet of loo roll under one arm, precariously balancing a bottle of wine on top of a cereal box, while tucking a jar in somewhere and hoping it won't be lost on the pavement.

Those who have forgotten their eco bags can sometimes resemble the children's game buckaroo, where the donkey is loaded until it can take no more.

And all to avoid the 5p charge.

Policymakers spend years trying to come up with ways to change public behaviour.

The introduction of a 5p charge at the bigger shops, and adopted by some smaller shops, appears to have worked.

A relatively small levy, the figures show it has made a big difference. As well as the environment and sea creatures which have suffered from discarded plastic bags over the years, the manufacturers of reusable bags must be a beneficiary.

So many of us are sporting a statement fabric bag these days. As for the losers? The single use plastic bag makers of course, and the now empty kitchen cupboard no longer stuffed to bursting with an ever-growing collection.

Do you have a story about what you are doing to help the environment? Email

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