Like many, I have already parted with 5p today for an overly-filled carrier bag from Tesco. The five pence charge for plastic carrier bags which applies to larger retail outlets in England (similar charges already apply to the rest of the UK) is good news for the environment. It is good news for fundraisers too, as many have already realised. While some heavy discounters are likely to use the charge to cut their margins and reduce prices (Lidl has long charged for their bags), most will sugar their customer’s pill by passing the proceeds of the charge to charity.
These will be no small amounts. In Wales, where the charge was introduced in October 2011, Morrisons has so far passed on £135,000 to helping children living in deprived areas through programmes such as Save the Children’s FAST (Families and Schools Together) project. Tesco in Wales has donated £300,000 to the RSPB, since October 2012.
Since it is the early bird that gets the worm, it should come as no surprise that the RSPB (again!) in England has already claimed ALDI’s carrier bag pot, which the supermarket estimates to be worth £2 million a year and which builds on an existing partnership. Similarly, it is one of B&Q’s existing partners, Children in Need, that will benefit from the DIY chain’s carrier bag charge.
Tesco has announced that, in line with its existing CSR policy, their carrier bags will fund local projects with community regeneration charity Groundwork being an early beneficiary. But some other supermarkets have not decided how the funds will be used. Sainsbury’s has not (as far as I have been able to ascertain) made any announcement about the proceeds of the charge yet while ASDA has said no more than it will go to good causes.
The primary purpose of the charge is to nudge people into reusing bags, and this move might well increase the market for cause-related bags-for-life and tote bags sold via high street retailers. But it should also permanently increase the pot of money available for charities. The big supermarkets alone dispensed 8.5 billion free carrier bags in 2013. Even if the charge cuts this by 80 per cent (as it has done already in Scotland) or even 90 per cent (as a similar charge did in Ireland) the amount raised will be upwards of £40 million (and that is ignoring other retailers). Even if many of the prize partnerships have already been bagged, fundraisers will be wanting to eye up how these funds will be used next year and in the years which follow.