Small retailers exempt from plastic bag levy

The government has ignored calls to include all retailers in the 5p plastic bag charge, due to come into force in England in October 2015.

plastic bags

Ministers have opted to exempt small retailers from enforcing the levy, which it says would be unfair and costly to small businesses such as local newsagents and convenience stores.

The Environmental Audit Committee said this exemption will limit the benefits it brings in terms of reducing litter, waste and harm to wildlife.

The government has accepted that there could be problems caused to the UK’s recycling industry by the proposed exemption for ‘biodegradable plastic bags’, and this will not be included when the charge is introduced next year.

Chair of the Committee, Joan Walley MP, said the bag levy is the right solution.

“It will reduce litter, cut carbon emissions and reduce waste. Despite our Committee’s recommendations, the government has decided not to apply the charge across the board, but to go ahead with its proposed exemptions.”

The Committee insisted this proposed exemption for small retailers was not supported by the Association of Convenience Stores, the National Federation of Retail Newsagents or the British Retail Consortium.

The Committee had recommended the government not proceed with its plan for a biodegradable plastic bag exemption because of the risk of contamination to plastic recycling and the potential confused messages shoppers would get.

The government concluded that a biodegradable plastic exemption will not be included in the legislation until standards for the bags have been finalised.

“I am pleased, however, that the government has conceded that the proposed exemption for biodegradable plastic bags could cause problems for the UK’s recycling industry and will now not be included when the charge is introduced next year,” added Walley.

The Oxo-biodegradable Plastics Association (OPA) said the government should consider oxo-biodegradable plastic – which is already mandatory in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

The OPA said there was no point opting for bio-based plastic, which it said is tested to biodegrade only in the special conditions found in industrial composting.

“The right choice would be oxo-biodegradable plastic, which has the same strength as ordinary plastic, but automatically converts at the end of its designated useful life into a biodegradable material. When it has become biodegradable it is no longer a plastic, and it has to pass the tests in BS8472 to prove that it is biodegradable and non-toxic and that it does NOT contain heavy metals. It does not degrade in landfill and generate methane,” the OPA said in a statement.

However, the decision not to exempt bio-degradable bags was criticised by some manufacturers.

Novamont, the Italian manufacturer of the Mater-Bi biodegradable plastic bags which are commonly used in Milan, said it was concerned about potentially lengthy delays to the introduction of an exemption – which it said could slow down investment and be damaging for the UK’s bioplastics and composting industries.

Tony Breton, UK strategist for Novamont, said: “The Government should speed up the exemption process by using existing robust standards for compostable plastics, rather than go through the lengthy process of creating new standards for plastics which do not currently exist.”

In the Queen’s speech, the government announced its intention to introduce the charge.

The government’s proposals for England only apply to plastic bags. Unlike the rest of the UK, and not to paper bags, which are distributed by some retailers.



  1. The UK govt is correct to not exempt ‘biodegradable’ bags as there are so many confusing claims around biodegradable these days that it would not be possible to verify all the claims. So a simple catch all ban is the best choice.

    However to exempt small business is not a good idea. Every one should have the same conditions. All bags should be charged for. This is the only way consumer will get the message that these bags they use are very harmful to the environment.

    • What utter tosh. A tax does nothing for the environment. It does nothing to stop people discarding bags. All your comment does is highlight your ignorance in this subject. So now my wife wants to buy cotton bags to bring our products home frm the store, do you know how many times she has to use that bacg before it has less of an environmental impact then plastic carriers bags?? (which by the way are not used once but at least twice or three times)