The Queen has confirmed at the state opening of Parliament that retailers will begin charging customers 5p for plastic bags in 2015.
The Queen said: “My government will… reduce the use of plastic carrier bags to help protect the environment.”
The Government will introduce a 5p plastic bag charge in England from October 2015, which it hopes will cut the number of plastic bags used in the country.
In 2012 alone, more than seven billion single-use plastic bags were given out by retailers, which equates to 133 per person.
England is the final country in the UK to introduce the charge as Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland have already introduced a similar levy.
The levy will only affect large retailers as medium-sized and small business are exempt from the charge.
Retailers will be expected to donate proceeds from the charge to good causes. The Government said it wants to develop a voluntary agreement with retailers to cover this.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said that although it welcomes the levy, the Government’s decision to exempt small and medium-sized businesses and paper carrier bags from the charge - unlike Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales- make it less effective.
The Government has justified its decision pointing out that paper bags are less than 0.1% of carrier bags distributed in England and plastic bags take longer to degrade in the natural environment.
BRC environment policy adviser Alice Ellison added: “Some small and medium-sized BRC members want to be included in the levy because the cost of buying bags for small businesses is high.”
The Government’s Environmental Audit Committee criticised the decision for making the process more complex when plans were revealed last year.
Ellison added that it is also unclear as to how the Government will impose the levy on franchise operators.
“Retailers like Spar operate a franchise model, so would that count as a small business?” Ellison said. “It is confusing for the customer because they could go into one large branch and be charged and then visit another and not be charged.”
She added that this confusion also applies to concessions within department stores.
Ellison said England should follow the same programme as Wales which imposes the levy on all carrier bags and on all retailers.
KPMG head of retail David McCorquodale said: “A ‘bag tax’ at a grocer will simply tax the absent minded who forget to bring bags with them, rather than tackling the wider problem of excessive packaging. It seems incongruous when one considers the expensive packaging that non-food retailers put into their bags to promote their brand in the fashion world.
“My own view is that the Government should take steps to encourage the packaging suppliers to introduce better bio-degradable packaging into the sector.”
The Government will also “crack down on abuse in zero-hours contracts” and employers will face tougher penalties for not paying the national minimum wage.