Economic and Social Research Council
Printable version

Nine in 10 shoppers in England now using their own carrier bags, research reveals

Around 90 per cent of people in England now take their own bags with them when food shopping as a result of the plastic carrier bag charge, new research has revealed.

This has increased from 70 per cent before the charge was introduced and was independent of age, gender or income.

In addition to this, less than one in 15 shoppers (7 per cent) are now regularly taking single-use carrier bags at the checkout, the research from Cardiff University shows, as opposed to one in four shoppers before the charge.

According to the researchers, the study showed that the charge made shoppers stop and think whether they really need to use a single-use plastic bag for their shopping.

The results come from the very first study to examine the attitudes and behaviours of the English population since the single-use carrier bag charge was first introduced almost a year ago on 5 October 2015.

The study, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), was undertaken by researchers at Cardiff University’s Welsh School of Architecture, in conjunction with IPSOS Mori. The study combined a longitudinal survey, a longitudinal diary and interview study, and observations in eight supermarkets.

Results also showed an increase in support in England for the carrier bag charge since it was introduced, rising from 51 per cent to 62 per cent, as well as an increase in support for other potential waste reduction charges, such as a charge on plastic water bottles. 

Professor Wouter Poortinga, who led the research, said: "Overall, our research has shown that the English carrier bag charge has had a strong and positive impact on people's attitudes and behaviours and that it successfully disrupted people using plastic bags.   

"We've seen that the charge has become increasingly popular with the English population since it was introduced, and that it has changed attitudes towards waste policies as well.

"This suggests that other similar policies could be successfully implemented, such as a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles or a charge on disposable coffee cups."

The results of the study, which were presented at an event in London today (29 September), have also revealed significant increases in the amount of people taking their own carrier bags to shops other than supermarkets. For example, results showed that one in two people now regularly take their own bags when shopping for clothes and healthcare products, compared to only one in 10 people before the carrier bag charge was introduced.

Andy Cummins, from Surfers against Sewage, said: "This study is another important marker highlighting the unmitigated success of the bag charge, reducing the numbers of bags given out in English supermarkets by billions.  

"This study demonstrates how the bag charge has swiftly changed both public behaviour and enhanced attitudes towards single-use bags. The report concludes with a valuable message for government and industry by confirming the public would be open to further economic measures to help reduce littering, such as deposit return systems to ensure bottles and cans remain in the recycling economy rather than the environment." 

The study consisted of three separate parts, consisting of a longitudinal survey of over 3000 people in England, Wales and Scotland who were surveyed one month before the charge, and then one month and six months after the charge.

A longitudinal diary-interview study was also undertaken by the researchers, which consisted of the completion of diaries by around 50 participants, followed by interviews before and after the charge.

The final part of the study consisted of observations of shoppers exiting supermarkets in Cardiff and Bristol before and after the charge.

Notes for editors

  1. For a copy of the report or to an arrange an interview with one of the study authors, please contact Michael Bishop, Communications and Marketing, Cardiff University (telephone 029 2087 4499 / 07713 325300 or email
  2. Cardiff University is recognised in independent government assessments as one of Britain’s leading teaching and research universities and is a member of the Russell Group of the UK's most research intensive universities. The 2014 Research Excellence Framework ranked the University fifth in the UK for research excellence. Among its academic staff are two Nobel Laureates, including the winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Medicine, University Chancellor Professor Sir Martin Evans. Founded by Royal Charter in 1883, today the University combines impressive modern facilities and a dynamic approach to teaching and research. The University's breadth of expertise encompasses: the College of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences; the College of Biomedical and Life Sciences; and the College of Physical Sciences and Engineering, along with a longstanding commitment to lifelong learning. Cardiff's flagship Research Institutes are offering radical new approaches to pressing global problems.
  3. The ESRC is the UK's largest funder of research on the social and economic questions facing us today. It supports the development and training of the UK's future social scientists and also funds major studies that provide the infrastructure for research. ESRC-funded research informs policymakers and practitioners and helps make businesses, voluntary bodies and other organisations more effective. The ESRC also works collaboratively with six other UK research councils and Innovate UK to fund cross-disciplinary research and innovation addressing major societal challenges. The ESRC is an independent organisation, established by Royal Charter in 1965, and funded mainly by the Government.


Channel website:

Share this article

Latest News from
Economic and Social Research Council

2021 Public Sector Digital Marketing Summit: 22-23 September 2021