Amazing news, Green Monsters! England has just joined a number of other European countries – including Scotland, Wales, and Italy – by introducing a new plastic bag tax. Consumers who were previously accustomed to receiving free plastic bags at store checkouts will now have to pay five pence per bag (approximately eight cents in U.S. currency). The English government hopes that the tax will cut use of plastic carrier bags by up to 80 percent in supermarkets, and by 50 percent in retail stores, in addition to saving 60 million Euros in litter clean-up costs.

Research has shown that whenever such a levy was introduced in other countries, plastic bag usage tends to decrease quickly. When Ireland introduced a 20 cent levy on plastic bags in 2002, usage of the bags declined by 90 percent (that’s about one million fewer plastic bags), with customers now more inclined to bring reusable bags with them to the store. A 2012 report by the National Litter Pollution Monitoring System found that plastic bags constituted just 0.3 percent of street litter in that year, compared to five percent prior to the introduction of the tax. In Denmark, a plastic bag tax was introduced in 1993 – and Danes now use only four plastic bags per person, per year.

No doubt about it – this small but simple tax could go a long way toward reducing England’s plastic footprint! And a drop in plastic bag usage anywhere in the world can only be seen as good news for marine animals. 700 ocean species are at risk of going extinct because of plastic pollution … and tragically, it only takes one piece of trash to kill one marine animal.

When it comes to the proliferation of plastic in our oceans, the scale of the problem is hard to measure. Only a tiny percentage of the trash can be easily seen, floating on the surface of the water – and this still totals out to about 270,000 tons. Far larger amounts of it exist at the bottom of the sea, within Arctic ice, or inside the organs of marine animals. When you consider that around 80 percent of the plastic that ends up in the oceans comes from land, you can begin to understand how important it is to limit plastic bag use.

Nicola Hodgins, Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC)’s head of science, welcomed the announcement of England’s new plastic bag fee. She said, “A reduction in the number of plastic bags in circulation can only be a good thing for our marine wildlife who are already suffering with the deluge of plastic that humans are releasing into their environment on a daily basis. The numbers of whales and dolphins dying as a result of entanglement and / or ingestion of plastic bags is increasing every day.”

Despite the fact that small shops are not legally compelled to apply the charge, large numbers of them have stepped forward to declare that they intend to introduce it anyway.

For more information on how you can cut down on your use of plastic, check out some of these articles:

Lead image source: Guardian UK