The UK's Plastic Bag Tax Shows We Can Change The World If We Really Want To


Jonathan O'Callaghan

Senior Staff Writer

Maciej Bledowski/Shutterstock

A study has found that a plastic bag tax imposed in the UK in 2015 has had the desired effect of lessening oceanic waste. It turns out we actually can fix the environment. Who knew?

Published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, the study was led by the Centre for Environment, Fisheries, and Aquaculture Science (CEFAS) in the UK. They found a 30 percent drop in plastic bags on seabeds over a large area bordered by Norway, France, and Ireland from 2010 to 2017.


“It is encouraging to see that efforts by all of society, whether the public, industry, NGOs or government to reduce plastic bags are having an effect,” said Dr Thomas Maes from CEFAS, the report’s lead author, in a statement. “We observed sharp declines in the percentage of plastic bags as captured by fishing nets trawling the seafloor around the UK compared to 2010 and this research suggests that by working together we can reduce, reuse and recycle to tackle the marine litter problem.”

The team used 25 years of data to study plastic that had been trawled from the bottom of the sea. This consisted of nearly 2,500 ocean trawls between 1992 and 2017. More than 60 percent of these trawls were found to contain at least one plastic litter item.

While it’s good news so far, there is still a long way to go. They noted that parts of the North Sea, English Channel, Celtic Sea, and Irish Sea still had up to 1,835 pieces of plastic per kilometer. While bags have been reduced, other plastic has remained or even increased.

Last month, the UK said it was planning to introduce a deposit scheme for bottles and cans to further reduce waste. Microbeads have also been banned, as the UK hopes to do its part to tackle ocean waste. Plastic bag use, meanwhile, has dropped by about 83 percent since the tax was introduced.


By 2025, it’s expected that plastic pollution in the oceans will triple. Every year, 1 million birds and more than 100,000 sea mammals die from eating or getting caught in plastic waste. Doing something about this problem can’t happen soon enough, and efforts like the UK’s plastic bag tax show we can do something about it.


  • tag
  • ocean,

  • pollution,

  • plastic,

  • waste,

  • UK,

  • tax,

  • plastic bag