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Today, a 5p charge comes in to force in England for single use plastic carriers bags.  It’s an issue M&S has focused on for many years.

When we launched Plan A (because there is no Plan B for the one Planet we have) in 2007, M&S set two goals around the impact of carrier bags.

Firstly to reduce carrier bag usage by 33% and secondly to reduce the environmental impact of our bags by making them out of recycled polythene.

In March 2007 we introduced a ‘Do you need a bag?’ campaign and launched a new bag-for-life range selling at 10p a bag. At the end of 2007 we also introduced a range of organic cotton bags aimed at our clothing and home customers.

We also worked hard and innovated with our bag supplier to develop a new process to enable our bags to be manufactured from 100% post-consumer recycled polythene.  Thus reducing their impact even further.

Following successful trials in Northern Ireland and South West England, in February 2008, we subsequently introduced the 5p charge for carrier bags in our food halls across the rest of the UK.  Profits from the sale of the 5p bags were donated to the environmental charity Groundwork who used it to create parks, gardens and play areas across the country.  You can see some of the projects that benefited in this short film.

It was a bold move from us, we knew it was the right thing to do, but we couldn’t be sure how customers would react.  The result – a 75% reduction in bag usage across our Foodhalls.  This equates to around 3bn fewer carrier bags used over the eight years since we introduced the charge.

As for customers, they reacted positively and it soon became a simple and easy way to get involved in Plan A. Bringing a bag for life quickly became commonplace in our Foodhalls. 

And, not only have we delivered a significant reduction in carrier bag usage.  We’ve also been able to donate over £10m to the charity.  Initially to Groundwork UK and since 2011 to WWF and the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) as part of our Forever Fish campaign.

The Welsh Government introduced a mandatory carrier bag charge in 2011 which delivered a 71% reduction, this was followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014.  Reusing bags has since become the norm.

We’re really proud of the progress M&S has made over the last eight years.  We expect our usage to drop even further and we’ll be donating the 5p minus VAT to good causes with half going to local charities and community causes chosen by our stores and the other half going to a selection of national charities that we have worked with for many years including MacMillan Cancer Support, Breast Cancer Now and the Marine Conservation Society.

To further support the introduction of the bag charge, M&S and Unicef UK have teamed up to create an ethically sourced tote bag designed by legendary designer Barbara Hulanicki. 

The bag carries a unique design created exclusively for M&S to raise funds for Unicef UK and retails at £4 with 100% of the profit (£1 per bag) being donated to the campaign to protect children from danger.

In another first, M&S has worked with one of its suppliers, London Linen, to utilise recycled fabric reclaimed from hotel and restaurant table linens to make the bags – ensuring it’s not only desirable, but also sustainable.

The bag is available in store and online at marksandspencer.com

model with UNICEF bag