UK doubles down on plastic bag charges as it plans to expand and increase levy 

Key Points
  • Plastic bag sales in major supermarkets have fallen by 86 percent since a 5 pence charge was introduced in 2015.
  • In January, a ban on the manufacture of products containing "microbeads" came into force.
A plastic bag discarded in the sea near Folkestone Harbour, Kent, United Kingdom. 
Andrew Aitchison | In Pictures | Getty Images

The U.K. government is set to extend its 5 pence (7 cent) plastic bag charge to all retailers, subject to consultation. The charge, which was introduced in 2015, currently applies to big businesses only.

The government said Thursday that it would also consult on increasing the minimum charge to at least 10 pence.

The introduction of the 5 pence charge has proved effective. Plastic bag sales in major supermarkets have fallen by 86 percent since it was introduced, according to the government.

"We are committed to being a global leader in tackling plastic pollution. It blights our seas and land and chokes our wildlife," Environment Secretary Michael Gove said in a statement.

"Thanks to the public's support, our plastic bag charge has been hugely successful," Gove added. "It has taken 13 billion plastic bags out of circulation in the last two years alone."

The issue of plastic pollution is a serious one. Europeans produce 25 million tons of plastic waste per year, according to the European Commission. Less than 30 percent of this is collected for recycling.

The U.K. government has recently taken steps to mitigate the impact of plastic on the environment. In January, for example, a ban on the manufacture of products containing "microbeads" came into force.