October 2014 – No More Bags of Bags

Author: Mitchells Roberton
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Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014






  • Many households will have been in the habit of amassing supermarket plastic bags with the intention of remembering to take a few for the next shop. But those good intentions were often overlooked so that the collection of bags grew and grew.
  • The introduction, on 20th October, of a minimum 5p charge for such bags will have concentrated many to remember to take some empty bags on their next shop: the “carrot” of feeling environmentally-friendly by so remembering is now enhanced by the “stick” of at least a 5p cost by forgetting.
  • We all know what a plastic bag is and so, in principle, the introduction of this measure should be quite straightforward. Nevertheless, the “”Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 (“the Regulations”) run to 14 pages and include 22 definitions of particular words and phrases: everything has to be tied down in legalese. What might sound superficially like a simple measure turns out more convoluted than one might expect. This Note touches on a few of those convolutions: in particular, it focuses on those carrier bags to which a charge does not apply.

What bags avoid a charge?


Bags for multiple re-use

  • A charge does not apply to bags intended for “multiple re-use”. This phrase of course needs to be pinned down. It covers a carrier bag that (a) is purchased by a customer and (b) when worn out is returnable to the shop to be replaced for free and (c) is marked so as to show it is such a bag.

Small paper bags


  • A paper carrier bag is, in principle, caught by the Regulations. But there is an exception for small ones. In this context the term “small” might be thought clear enough. But of course statutory Regulations can’t rely on things being “clear enough”. More precision is required. A “small paper bag” is defined as:

a carrier bag made wholly from paper which (a) does not have a gusset or a handle and is not more than 175 millimetres wide and 260 millimetres high; or (b) has a gusset no greater than 50 millimetres wide but does not have a handle and is not more than 80 millimetres wide and 155 millimetres high.

Small plastic bags


  • A similar exception applies to “small plastic bags” which means a plastic bag that does not have a gusset or a handle and is not more than 125 millimetres wide and 125 millimetres high.

Does the charge apply to bags of e.g. groceries delivered to your house?


  • Yes. The Regulations provide that a supplier must charge for a carrier bag (as falls within the Regulations) which is supplied new either at (most commonly) the shop  “or for the purposes of enabling goods to be delivered to any person.”

Are there exceptions for certain purchases?


  • Yes. It does not apply, for example to a carrier bag supplied solely to contain:

food which is “unpackaged” (i.e. wholly or partly unwrapped);

prescription medicines or “any substance or combination of substances presented as having properties of preventing or treating disease in human beings”;

uncooked fish, meat or poultry as long as the bag is limited to certain specified dimensions; and

“live aquatic creatures in water” – so one can buy a goldfish in a free bag.


Note: This material is for information purposes only and does not constitute any form of advice or recommendation by us. You should not rely upon it in making any decisions or taking or refraining from taking any action. If you would like us to advise you on any of the matters covered in this material, please contact Paul Neilly: Paul@mitchells-roberton.co.uk


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