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Here’s how the 5p plastic bag charge has dramatically changed the environment

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Emily Badiozzaman
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Turns out that charging you 5p for a plastic bag has actually made a difference to the environment.

The Marine Conservation Society has found that the number of plastic bags on British beaches has dropped by 40% in the five years the charge has been in place.

Previously, a wet and windy walk down a stretch of our coastline would have led you through 11 plastic bags per 100 meters. Now you’ll wander past just under seven, which is the lowest it’s been in the last ten years.

The findings came from the Marine Conservation Society’s Great British Clean, where 6000 volunteers cleaned 364 beaches and recorded the litter they found.

In Wales, where the bag charge has been in place for five years, the number was lower than any other year since 2011 - just under four bags for every 100m cleaned.

But it was beaches in England and Northern Ireland which saw the biggest drop in the number of plastic bags found during the September clean up - with half as many recovered compared with 2015.

Since the introduction of the 5p charge in England in October 2015, the number of single-use plastic bags used by shoppers has dropped more than 85%. More than 7bn bags were handed out by seven main supermarkets in the year before the charge, but the numbers plummeted to slightly more than 500m in the first six months after the charge was introduced, according to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Environment minister Therese Coffey said the introduction of the charge in England had been a "huge success" and had raised £29m for charitable organisations and good causes.

She said "It shows small actions can make the biggest difference, but we must not be complacent as there is always more we can all do to reduce waste and recycle what we use."

While it’s not all good news - the study also found an increase in plastic bottles and balloon-related litter - the trend seems to be heading in a positive direction.

So, no we haven’t saved the oceans yet, but next time you’re told at the checkout that a bag will be 5p, think of this snippet of good news and high five the cashier.

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Emily Badiozzaman

Emily is a freelance writer for Shortlist.com. She covers breaking news, entertainment, style and lifestyle for the site. When she’s not writing, she can usually be found eating and drinking or thinking about food and drinking. Follow Emily on Twitter: @ebadiozzaman 

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