The price of plastic bags in England's shops will rise from 5p to 10p a fortnight today, the Government has announced.

Smaller stores will also start charging, under a fresh crackdown designed at curbing plastic waste polluting oceans.

Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “We strongly welcome the inclusion of local shops and other small businesses into the successful plastic bag charging scheme, which not only helps the environment but is also a great way for retailers to raise money for local and national charities.”

Plans to double the bag cost and extend charging to small retailers – those employing 250 staff or fewer – were first announced last August.

Big supermarkets have had to charge for single-use carriers since 2015

Charging for single use carriers was introduced in Wales in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013, before Scotland introduced the charge for all carrier bags in 2014, and England rolled out its plastic bag charge in October 2015.

Since the fee was introduced in England, an estimated 15 billion bags have been taken out of circulation.

Just over a billion bags were sold at major supermarkets across the UK between 2017 and 2018.

The Environment Department said the average person in England buys just four single-use carrier bags a year from the main supermarkets, compared with 140 in 2014.

Smaller retailers in England supply about 3.6 billion single-use bags annually, but the number is expected to plummet when the charge comes in on May 21.

Smaller stores will have to charge customers from May 21

By extending the charge to all retailers, it is expected that the use of single-use carrier bags will decrease by 70-80% in small and medium-sized businesses.

Greenpeace senior plastics campaigner Nina Schrank said: “Plastic carrier bag sales are falling year on year and putting the price up to 10p should further discourage their use.

“But the UK uses more than a billion and a half heavy duty 'bags for life' a year, so to make sure the gains made on carrier bags aren't lost we also need to phase out bags for life. "With shoppers set to pay more for their carrier bags, it's high time the Government also makes companies take responsibility for the hundreds of thousands of tonnes of plastic produced in the UK each year.

“Ministers must set legally-binding targets to reduce single-use plastics by 50% by 2025, and implement a deposit return scheme for drinks containers of all sizes by 2023."

Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard told the Mirror: “Most people are not buying single-use carrier bags, they are now buying bags for life which have more plastic in and are using them as single-use.

Shadow Environment Secretary Luke Pollard

“We welcome the increase in the charge for single-use carrier bags, we think more of those carrier bags should be biodegradable and we need to have a plan to address the fact that there are millions of bags for life being sold and effectively used as single-use carrier bags.”

World Wide Fund for Nature sustainable materials specialist Paula Chin said: “Measures to reduce plastics consumption need to go much further.

“The UK Government must consider a complete ban on single-use bags and make sure this is not undermined by the sale of ‘bags for life’, which are currently cheaply available and all-too-often end up as single-use items.”

British Retail Consortium head of sustainability Peter Andrews said it “campaigned for the charge to apply to all stores when it was first introduced, so it’s welcome to see the Government finally doing this”.

He added: “The doubling of the charge will have some impact, but it’s likely to be negligible due to the already huge drop in demand for single-use carrier bags since the first charge was introduced.

“Most retailers are already offering alternatives that have a lower environmental impact if used correctly.”

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow

Environment Minister Rebecca Pow said: “The introduction of the 5p charge has been a phenomenal success, driving down sales of harmful plastic bags in supermarkets by a remarkable 95%.

“We know we must go further to protect our natural environment and oceans, which is why we are now extending this charge to all businesses.”