We started charging 5p for Neal’s Yard Dairy carrier bags back in January 2018. We crossed our fingers and hoped that it would reduce our plastic bag use and raise money for a good cause. There was good evidence that the charge had led to impressive reductions at the big supermarkets, but few reports of its success in smaller businesses, like ours, where the bag charge is not compulsory. We weren’t sure what to expect. Would it reduce bag use by 5% or 50%? Would we raise £500 or £5,000? A year in, we crunched the numbers and felt pretty happy with the results.
43,000 fewer plastic bags used
Charging 5p for our plastic bags had resulted in a 54% decrease in bag use; around 43,000 fewer bags were used compared to the previous year. Looked at another way, there were 43,000 more visits to our shops where our admirably organised customers brought a bag with them rather than buy a new one.
That said, we did still sell a lot of bags; 37,771, to be precise, and at 5p a bag this raised £1,888. Reducing the amount of plastic Neal’s Yard Dairy uses was rewarding, but what we did with the proceeds was even more so.
Maths in the chicken shed
Our aim was to raise enough money to sponsor a group of local school children on a residential farm visit. At Neal’s Yard Dairy, the weekly visits we make to the farms that supply us underpins all that we do. That connection with where our produce comes from is fundamental; who makes it, how they make it, how it tastes. Enabling local children to experience the same just made sense.
Neal’s Yard Dairy combined the proceeds from the bag charge with the savings made through purchasing thousands fewer bags. And in October 2018, a group of children from Redriff Primary School, in our neighbouring Rotherhithe, set off to the inspiring Abbey Home Farm for a few days of fun on the farm.
Check out Redriff’s Twitter feed to see the harvesting, cooking and den-building in action. We wished we could have gone too (not least to see ‘arrays and distributive law in action' in the chicken shed!).
National success leads to 15 billion fewer bags
The national success of the mandatory bag charge led the UK Government to propose increasing the charge to 10p and extending it to include all businesses, regardless of size. That success was measured in the 15 billion plastic bags that have been taken out of circulation and the £51m donated to charities. Similar programs across Europe have together been credited with a 30% drop in the number of plastic bags that litter the seas around the UK. These are compelling statistics and, combined with our own positive experience, spurred us on to the next phase.
10p charge to further reduce bag use
From June 1st 2019 we increased our bag charge from 5p to 10p with the aim of further reducing our use of plastic bags. We also extended the charge to include our paper bags in recognition that they too are commonly 'single-use' and are reported as having a higher carbon footprint than their plastic counterparts.
100% of the proceeds, whether from the sale of plastic or paper bags, will go towards funding another school visit to Abbey Home Farm and we will continue to supplement those funds with the savings we make from purchasing fewer bags.
We hope you’ll support the initiative by continuing to bring your own reusable bags. Our success to date is thanks to your actions and we really appreciate your help. The ultimate goal is zero plastic bags in our shops and lots of kids down at the farm; harvesting, cooking and den-building.