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Single-use carrier bags

In the guide

This guidance is for Wales

Under the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Wales) Regulations 2010 all retailers are required to charge a minimum of 5p for every new single-use carrier bag they supply (exemptions apply).

The Regulations apply to all retailers that supply new single-use carrier bags at a place in Wales in order to allow goods sold to be taken away, and any retailers that supply single-use carrier bags with the purpose of enabling goods sold to be delivered to persons in Wales - for example, sales, and subsequent delivery, made over the internet or by mail order.

The rationale behind the charge is to try and substantially reduce the amount of single-use carrier bags being supplied, used and thrown away in Wales. All bags use energy and create emissions to produce. Plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose and discarded bags result in unsightly litter, which can be harmful to animals and the environment.

It is hoped that small changes to customer habits will promote sustainability and that the money collected by retailers as a result of the minimum charge will be passed on to good causes in Wales that will in turn benefit the local community and the environment.

Similar charges apply in other parts of the UK but the legislation differs slightly between countries. Retailers that supply goods in single-use carrier bags to other parts of the UK should familiarise themselves with the applicable regional legislation to avoid non-compliance.

Single-use carrier bag: definition

All types of new single-use carrier bag are subject to a minimum charge of 5p when supplied new for the first time (as described above), including those made from paper, plastic, part plastic, recycled and degradable materials.

Failing to charge for single-use carrier bags in accordance with the legal requirements may constitute a breach of these Regulations.

Plastic bags that are specifically intended for multiple reuse are not considered single-use carrier bags for the purposes of this legislation. A plastic bag is intended for 'multiple reuse' if it is purchased by the customer and can be returned to the retailer for a free replacement once it is worn out (often referred to as a 'bag for life'). The Regulations specify that bags that are re-usable are those with both dimensions (height and width) being over 404mm, one dimension being over 439mm and be greater than 49 microns thickness. Bags falling outside these specifications are subject to the charge.

Retailers can choose to charge more than 5p per bag; this is the minimum charge. It is a commercial decision for the retailer whether or not they wish to charge for bags that would otherwise be exempt from the minimum charge.

Customers should also be aware that they are under no obligation to buy bags from the retailer; they can of course bring their own bags to reuse or decline bags for delivery.

Exemptions

The supply of certain single-use carrier bags are exempt from the minimum charge; see details of these exemptions below.

Furthermore bags made from cloth (jute, cotton and hessian), thick plastic 'bags for life' as described above, or single-use carrier bags that have already been charged for once and are recycled and used again (such as by a charity shop or market stall), are all exempt from the charge.

Single-use carrier bags used solely to contain the following products are exempt from the charge:

  • unpackaged food for human or animal consumption
  • unpackaged loose seeds, bulbs, corms or rhizomes
  • any unpackaged axe, knife, knife blade or razor blade
  • unpackaged goods contaminated by soil

Also exempt are small single-use bags 205mm width x 125mm gusset width x 458mm height (including handles) used solely to contain packaged and uncooked:

  • fish or fish products
  • meat or meat products
  • poultry or poultry products

This is in order to help maintain high levels of food safety and hygiene, and to prevent cross-contamination.

It is the seller's responsibility to ensure that the bags are used solely to contain the items above by choosing bags of an appropriate size. Otherwise, if other goods are added, a charge for the bag should be levied.

Other exemptions from the charge include:

  • bags used to contain purchases made on board ships, trains, aircraft, coaches or buses
  • bags used to contain purchases made in an area designated by the Secretary of State as a security restricted area under section 11A of the Aviation Security Act 1982 - for example, as you pass through airport security
  • mail order dispatch and courier bags
  • bags that are made wholly from paper and have maximum dimensions of 175 mm (width) x 260 mm (height), and do not have a gusset or handle
  • bags that are made wholly or mainly from plastic and have maximum dimensions of 125 mm (width) x 125 mm (height), and do not have a gusset or handle
  • bags that are made wholly from paper and have maximum dimensions of 80 mm (width) x 50 mm (gusset width) x 155 mm (height), and do not have a handle
  • gusseted liners used to line or cover boxes, crates or other containers of a similar nature
  • bags used solely to contain live aquatic creatures in water
  • bags used solely to contain prescription medicinal products or listed appliances 
  • bags used solely to contain pharmacy medicine - that is, any item that can only be sold by a qualified pharmacist or with their supervision

It should also be noted that there is a general exemption to the charge for single-use carrier bags supplied with goods that have not been sold - for example, to carry free magazines or promotional items.

Record keeping

Sellers that employ more than 10 full-time employees (or equivalent) at the start of the reporting year are required under the legislation to keep accurate records of the number of single-use carrier bags that they supply in each reporting year (the reporting year runs from 7 April to 6 April the following year).

These records must include:

  • the number of single-use carrier bags charged for. This only includes those bags to which a mandatory minimum charge applies; if the retailer voluntarily charges for exempt bags these sums would not be included
  • the gross (total) amount received from charging for single-use carrier bags - for example, if the retailer charges more than the minimum amount this would be the total amount received
  • the gross (total) proceeds of the charge - this figure is on the basis of the 5p minimum charge and is calculated at 5p multiplied by the number of chargeable bags supplied
  • the net (final amount after deductions) proceeds of the charge. This represents the final amount left after the seller has deducted his 'reasonable costs' of complying with the legislation, any VAT and, where appropriate, the additional sum charged above 5p per bag
  • a breakdown of the difference between the gross and net proceeds, including the deduction of VAT and the deductions for 'reasonable costs'
  • what you have done with the net proceeds

A template and worked example can be found on the Welsh government's dedicated website.

'Reasonable costs' include costs reasonably incurred by the seller to comply with this legislation and to communicate information about the charge to customers.

Records must be kept for three years from 31 May in the reporting year following that to which the record relates.

Sellers with less than ten full-time employees (or equivalent) are exempt from keeping records but not exempt from charging for single-use carrier bags.

A seller must publish these records for one year if they are a taxable person for the purposes of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and they supply 1,000 or more single-use carrier bags to which the charge applies during that year. Records can either be published online on the seller's website, or displayed in-store, in both cases the information must be prominently displayed, easily accessible and visible to customers.

Sellers must also make their records available during the three-year recording period upon written request from Welsh Ministers or members of the public within 28 days.

Penalties

Any of the following may constitute a breach of the Regulations and the commission of a criminal offence:

  • failing to keep, retain, publish (where obliged to do so) or supply records
  • providing false or misleading information to an administrator
  • obstructing or failing to assist an administrator in the conduct of its functions under this legislation

(The 'administrator' is defined within the Regulations as the local authority.)

Officers from the local authority are given powers within the legislation to ascertain whether the Regulations are being complied with and to take steps to investigate if they reasonably believe that a failure to comply has occurred.

Non-compliance with the legislation is dealt with by means of civil sanctions, including fixed monetary penalties and/or discretionary requirements, including variable financial penalties (up to £20,000) and non-monetary discretionary requirements aimed at preventing further breaches of the legislation.

The local authority can also require the seller to publish details of the breach and subsequent sanction and can make an order to recover its enforcement costs where a discretionary requirement is imposed on the seller.

Further information

Businesses seeking further information should contact their local authority; the Regulations are normally administered by officers of the trading standards service.

Information for both consumers and retailers can be found on a dedicated website created by the Welsh government.

Key legislation

Last reviewed / updated: April 2017

PixelPlease note

This information is intended for guidance; only the courts can give an authoritative interpretation of the law.

The guide's 'Key legislation' links may only show the original version of the legislation, although some amending legislation is linked to separately where it is directly related to the content of a guide. Information on amendments to UK legislation can be found on each link's 'More Resources' tab; amendments to EU legislation are usually incorporated into the text.

© 2017 itsa Ltd.

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