The five pence plastic bag charge has stirred many customer reactions across England, with shoppers getting confused what they can and cannot be charged for.

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have charged for bags for many years and the policy, championed by Nick Clegg from the previous coalition government, was enforced this October after almost 200 million plastic bags were wasted between 2013 and 2014.

The government decided to join the scheme after seeing how successful it had been for other UK countries.

For example; in Wales bag hand-outs have fallen by 78.2%; Scotland has seen a 18.3% decrease and in Northern Ireland the number of bags used has dropped by 71%.

Forecasts expect the scheme to reduce the use of carrier bags in England by 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street. Additionally, the government is expecting to save £60 million in litter clean-up costs.

CARL HOLROYD, Team Leader, Tesco Long row express

The policy comes with a ‘set of rules’ for stores and shoppers.

Under the new scheme retailers employing 250 or more full time employees are required to charge five pence for every new plastic bag they provide to shoppers, including home deliveries.

Tesco Metro, Intu Victoria Centre, Nottingham
Tesco Metro, Intu Victoria Centre, Nottingham

But it has prompted criticism because the policy excludes any plastic bags given to shoppers from independent stores or customers travelling on planes, trains, ships or in airports.

It also does not include any bags provided to customers purchasing raw meat or fish from a fresh food counter.

Critics have disagreed with this policy. Carl Holroyd, Team Leader of Tesco Long Row Express, in Nottingham, said: “The rule should apply to everyone.”

Audio: Carl Holroyd expresses his views on the exemptions.

Also the charge does not apply to paper bags which has prompted many high street stores, such as River Island and Primark, to opt to use these.

Craig, Store Manager of River Island, in Lister Gate, Nottingham, said his customers were “shocked” to find out they weren’t being charged.

When a Plastic Bag Won’t Cost You

Shoppers won’t be charged for plastic bags used for:

  • Raw fish, meat and poultry
  • Loose seeds & flowers
  • Unwrapped, including axes, knives and knife and razor blades
  • Prescription
  • ‘Woven’ Bags
  • ‘Bags for Life’
  • Dry cleaning bags (or similar e.g. shoe repair shops)

Many supermarkets had shoppers complaining before the policy was enforced. Despite such reactions Store Manager, Dave Hobson, from Tesco Metro, Nottingham, explained how positively his shoppers have reacted by ‘using their bags for life and bringing suitcases’.

Audio: Dave Hobson explains his shoppers’ positivity.

But not all shoppers have been as understanding. Thirtyeight percent of those surveyed by Break the Bag Habit coalition thought the charge was unreasonable, saying it was an “inconvenience” and “ridiculous’. 

Nottingham shopper Denis Slattery described how he spent a significant amount of money in House of Fraser and then was forced to pay 5p for a plastic bag.

He said: “It’s ridiculous when I spent a considerable amount on their products, it should be part of the service they provide their customers.”

Other shoppers also agree the bag charge is an inconvenient expense:

Audio: Local shopper James Craine gives his opinion.

CBJ Spotlight has surveyed Nottingham shoppers for their views:

Questions put forward to shoppers, conducted by April Slattery

The Results:

Were you given enough information?

  • Stores told us how much we would be charged and when they would start charging


  • Not told what would and wouldn’t be included e.g. paper bags or meat
  • Didn’t know the money would be going to charity

Is the charge reasonable?

  • It will help save the environment
  • Helps charities


  • The charge is too high – it should be a penny
  • Good idea but we didn’t get enough information