People In England Are Stealing Plastic Bags Instead Of Paying A Fee For Them

The country introduced a tiny surcharge to try to get people to stop using plastic bags. One common response: theft.

People In England Are Stealing Plastic Bags Instead Of Paying A Fee For Them
Top Photo: Flickr user velkr0

Last October, England created an eight cents surcharge for every plastic bag, in the hopes of reducing the country’s waste. The plan has worked astonishingly well at curtailing the number of plastic bags British shoppers use. Or, at least, most British shoppers. Because according to a new survey reported in the Telegraph, cheapskate Britons have stolen $40 million worth of plastic grocery bags.


The survey, which is mostly ridiculous, was carried out by U.K.-based VoucherCodesPro, found that half of the 2,784 respondents have stolen three bags per month. This may in part be due to the widespread use of self-checkout terminals, where the customer has to tell the machine how many bags they have taken. And why would you tell it the actual number when you could tell it zero?

More interesting than the figures themselves are the reasons given by the thieves to justify their actions. Over a quarter said that paying for bags was “a waste of money,” a justification that could be applied to anything. Another 22% said they took the bags because they didn’t think anyone would notice. And 37% refused to pay because “it results in companies making more money.”

The attitude of entitlement is quite astonishing, as one commenter on this Independent article shows:

I unload and reload my trolley [shopping cart] or basket and take it to the car to dump it in the boot [trunk] because I forgot my bag for life . . .

I then dump the basket or trolley in the car park and leave it for them to collect rather than inconvenience me any more than they have by failing to provide me with a free bag.

Yet despite such behavior, the ban is working. In Scotland saw an 80% reduction in bag use in the first year, with similar figures reported by supermarkets in England. Viewed in this way, one might see these bag-stealers as a mixture, both regular folks trying to break a habit, but also the kind of people who would never have stopped overusing the bags when they were free, the kind who would double-bag everything, and demand a bag when they bought a packet of chewing gum.

About the author

Previously found writing at, Cult of Mac and Straight No filter.