5p Plastic Bag Charge

13th March 2016

Blog by Discovery and Learning Team – Aquarium Host Paul Botterill

At the end of last year, something amazing happened, something so exciting nobody will need reminding. Everyone knows where they were on 5th October 2015 – the day a 5p charge for plastic bags was introduced in England! No? Fair enough, me neither. But despite sounding incredibly boring, that was a pretty exciting day for the Oceans.

England was last to adopt this charge, and now it is in place over the whole of the UK. So why is that exciting? Well plastic bags are a huge source of pollution in the Oceans, in the UK we used over 7 billion plastic bags just in 2014! Those plastic bags take at least 500 years to break down, which means every single bag ever made is still in the world somewhere.

So where does all this plastic end up? Most is in the Oceans, floating at the surface and forming huge garbage patches where Ocean currents bring them together. The largest of these is the Pacific Trash Vortex, measuring around 3,000,000 km2! That’s 12 times the size of the UK. This is terrible news for the Oceans. Small plastics pollute the waters and are eaten by animals, small colourful pieces look like irresistible treats. In 1960 less than 5% of sea birds had plastic in their stomachs, last year it was 90%! Enormous numbers of sharks, birds, all manner of fish, and especially turtles are killed every year because they’ve eaten plastics.

But hang on, why does charging 5p make any difference? A plastic bag is just as deadly no matter how expensive it was. Well when the charge was introduced in Scotland plastic bag use dropped by 80%. EIGHTY, that is gigantic! The year after when Wales brought in the same rules they used 80% fewer bags too! It’s still too early to know exactly, but it looks like England is having the same huge plummet. That’s over 5 Billion fewer plastic bags in the Ocean.

Well done us! This was legislation brought forward because people cared about the Oceans, and now the little change to all of our lives has made a colossal difference to the Oceans.
There is still too much plastic, and animals will still need our help, but 5 billion fewer plastic bags in the Ocean every year is a brilliant achievement.

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