In the guide
All retailers are required to charge for most new single-use carrier bags they supply
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 404 mm, one dimension being over 439 mm 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.
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:
Also exempt are small single-use bags 205 mm width x 125 mm gusset width x 458 mm height (including handles) used solely to contain packaged and uncooked:
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:
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.
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:
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; written requests must be satisfied within 28 days of receipt.
Any of the following may constitute a breach of the Regulations and the commission of a criminal offence:
(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.
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.
Last reviewed / updated: August 2018
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.
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