Up to 2 million plastic bags a day could be kept out of landfills, recycling plants, and rivers if the government doubled the 5p levy on carrier bags and extended it to small shops, figures suggest.
Businesses with fewer than 250 employees are currently exempt from the charge which was introduced in England in 2015, and has helped remove 15 billion bags from circulation.
The Department for the Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra) has said it plans to increase the charge to 10p and include all retailers, from as early as January 2020.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble, a government environment minister, said 3.6 billion plastic bags were handed out by small businesses in 2017, compared to 1.7 billion sold in major retailers in 2017-18.
“We estimate that the policy to increase the charge to 10p would cause a decline in consumption of SUCBs (single use carrier bags) in MSMEs (micro and small businesses),” he said in response to a written question by Lord Hayward of Cumnor.
“(This is) assumed to be 23 per cent in the first year of change and 80 per cent within three years (2020-2022).”
This means around 2 million bags are entering circulation for every day the government delays action.
Retailers are expected to donate any proceeds from the 5p charge to good causes and 153 companies reported donations of £51.6m in 2017-18, figures show.
Of this, £20.5m went to causes local to the businesses, £20.4m to charities or voluntary organisations, while £2.9m went to support environmental issues.
Similar plastic bag levies have been introduced in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.