Shop staff to face checkout confrontation as 5p charge on carrier bags begins today

From today shoppers are being asked to pay 5p for each carrier bag they use at larger stores.

From today shoppers are being asked to pay 5p for each carrier bag they use at larger stores. - Credit: Archant

Shop staff are bracing themselves for checkout confrontation from today as free carrier bags become a thing of the past at larger stores.

Sandra and Deborah Stokes gave their views in Hitchin.

Sandra and Deborah Stokes gave their views in Hitchin. - Credit: Archant

Retailers are expected to levy a 5p charge on each bag shoppers use to stow away their purchases.

The government has forced through the charge – which came into effect this morning – in a bid to cut down on the huge number of single-use bags in circulation.

It’s estimated that there about seven billion being given out a year – 133 bags per person a year.

Bags for life and other options have been available for years, but while the free bags have been available people don’t bother to change their habits.

Joe Foster in Hitchin town centre.

Joe Foster in Hitchin town centre. - Credit: Archant

Hitchin town centre shoppers were in two minds.

Joe Foster said: “I think the charge will stop people getting plastic bags – it’s about time we did something.

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“I can’t see why people don’t bring their own bags – it’s just laziness, isn’t it?”

Sandra Stokes and her daughter Deborah, who live in Hitchin, also said they already brought their own bags when food shopping.

“I don’t think it’ll make a difference to us,” said Sandra.

But Deborah added: “I used to work in Superdrug, which charges for larger carrier bags, and people would always complain about it.”

Tom Caspell, who works in Hitchin’s Asda store, has also experienced unhappy customers when asked to pay a little extra for a bag to transport their goods.

He said: “Customers don’t like paying for bags – I don’t think they’ll be happy about it.”

But some shoppers think that the new measure, which does not affect smaller businesses, does not go far enough.

“Plastic bags should be banned altogether,” he said. “They have a terrible impact on the environment, particularly sea creatures who are affected by plastic washing up on beaches.”

“The charge should be higher than 5p, I would make it 50p.”

Peter Foord, who co-ordinates the North Herts branch of environmental organisation Friends of the Earth, said the group supported the move but more needed to be done.

He said: “It’s a small step in the right direction, but we need to need to be doing much more – plastic waste is a huge problem, with far too much currently ending up buried in landfill, or polluting the natural environment.

“Hopefully the new charge will lead to more people re-using plastic bags, rather than throwing them away after a single use.

“We’d also like to see improved local facilities for recycling all plastics – large retailers and fast food outlets should be leading the way on this.”

The trading standards team at Herts County Council is spreading the word about the new rules to make sure that businesses are in the picture.

The law requires all retailers with 250 or more on the payroll to charge for single-use plastic bags.

Retailers are expected to donate the proceeds of the scheme to good causes of their choice.

Small and medium sized businesses are not yet covered by this law, but they are being encouraged to charge on a voluntary basis.

Councillor Richard Thake, County Hall’s lead member for waste management, said: “We welcome this move to reduce the numbers of plastic bags given out.

“Discarded bags can be a hazard to wildlife, and many end up as litter in our towns, parks and the countryside.

“In 2014 over 7.6 billion bags were provided by major supermarkets in England. That’s around 140 bags per person.

“We now expect to see a significant reduction – by as much as 80 per cent in supermarkets and 50 per cent on the high street.”

Businesses which need advice on the issue can call 01707 282401.

But the TaxPayers’ Alliance pressure group says the move will add about £1.5 billion to the cost of living for English families over the next decade – equivalent to £67 per household in England over 10 years – and dismissed the legislation as poorly-targeted.

Many ‘single-use’ bags are used more than once in any event, it says, and plastic bags account for less than two per cent of household waste.

Use of the bags has already almost halved in recent years thanks to voluntary efforts, it says, so the law is not necessary.

Chief executive Jonathan Isaby said: “This plastic bag charge is to all intents and purposes a shopping tax,” he said.

“Taxpayers can only hope that the government will review this scheme sooner rather than later and conclude that there are other, more effective ways of helping the planet without burdening consumers and retailers with unnecessary costs and regulations.”

• Do you support the charge, or think it could be higher? Email your views to