It is a tax which has a double benefit: to reduce the impact of plastic on the environment and also raise money for charity.
But a new report has revealed that a massive decline in the number of shoppers buying 5p single-use carrier bags has seen charitable donations from major retailers plummet over the past year.
The total amount raised for charity by Scottish retailers fell to £14.7 million in 2018 from £15.9m the previous year, according to the report from the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC).
The study said the fall was primarily a result of changes in the use of single use carrier bags – which have to cost 5p by law. With many retailers no longer selling single use bags – instead opting for 10p reuseable bags as standard – along with the significant reduction in single bag use, carrier bag sales donation figures fell by £3.8m. The single use bag tax, which encourages retailers to donate the proceeds of plastic bag sales to good causes, was introduced in Scotland in 2014 in a bid to stamp out the widespread use of the items.
A total of 26 SRC members – including many of the major supermarkets such as Sainsbury’s, Morrison and Aldi – contributed to the report. Overall, a total of £41m has been donated to hundreds of charities, good causes and community groups from across Scotland and the UK in the three years since the SRC study began.
Leigh Sparks, professor of retail studies at Stirling University said that the decline in plastic bag sales was likely to continue.
He said: “The introduction of the charge had a massive impact on plastic bags. It is not just a one-off impact, it’s changing the behaviour of consumers over time. I would expect it to reduce further in future.” He added: “There is an awful lot of charitable work which goes on under the radar, while it is the large retailers that tend to make a bit more noise about it.”
The report said: “[The reduction] is predominantly driven by a number of retailers who have stopped selling single use carrier bags in the last year as retailers move to more sustainable models. Since we have also seen a significant like-for-like rise in direct financial donations, it’s plausible retailers are selling more multi-use carrier bags and donating those proceeds to charities and good causes instead.”
The report found that the largest contribution was through direct donations to charities from retailers, which totalled over £7.2m. That was followed by fundraising for charity partnerships which raised £4.7m.
The last main donation category was fundraising for specific events, with £1.2m raised for Poppy Scotland, Comic Relief, and Children in Need, over double what was raised in 2017.
Some members also recorded the time donated for volunteering, with over 12,000 hours of time donated by retail workers in 2017 – worth over £120,000 to the third sector.
SRC head of policy, Ewan MacDonald-Russell, said: “It’s fantastic to see the tangible and positive difference the retail industry is making to communities across Scotland.
“Not only have retailers raised an enormous sum for good causes, they’re actively working in partnership with charities and groups to make a significant local impact.”