The government is expected to announce an extension to the 5p charge on plastic bags in England to small retailers, as part of new environmental plans.

Shops with fewer than 250 employees are currently exempt from the charge, which was first introduced in England in October 2015. The policy has since cut plastic bag usage by nearly 90%, according to government figures.

Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland introduced plastic bag charges in 2011, 2014 and 2013 respectively and have also seen significant drops in usage.

Yesterday, environment secretary Michael Gove told a meeting of the cabinet that he wanted to tackle the country’s “throwaway culture which plastics encapsulate”.

The government is set to unveil its 25-year environment plan later this week, which is expected to include changes to the plastic carrier bag levy. Plastic bags at airport shops or on board trains, planes or ships are not included in the legislation, while paper bags are also exempt from any charge. 

In response to the plans, Association of Convenience Stores chief executive James Lowman said: “The 5p carrier bag charge is an effective way of significantly reducing the number of bags in circulation whilst also providing retailers with a way of raising money for local charities.

“We have long campaigned for the charge to be extended to all retailers in England, as is already the case in Scotland and Wales, and would welcome steps to make the charge universal.”

NFRN president Linda Sood said the government had listened to independent retailers’ concerns.

She added: “Extending the levy is good news as it will bring an end to customer confusion while helping retailers cut costs, play their part in reducing waste and raising money for local worthy charities.”