Plastic bag usage in England has plummeted since the new 5p charge came into force last autumn, new figures from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) reveal.

The total number of single use carrier bags issued by England’s seven biggest retailers has fallen by more than 80% since the policy came into force in October 2015.

The total number of single use carrier bags issued by Asda, M&S, Sainsbury, Tesco, The Co-operative group, Waitrose and Morrisons declined from over seven billion in 2014 to just 0.6 billion in the six months between October 2015 and April 2016.

The fall has saved 40,801 tons of plastic.

From 5 October 2015 large shops in England were required to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags.

The gross proceeds from the levy were £52.8m, while the net proceeds, after taking into account VAT and any costs, amounted to £41.3m.

More than two-thirds of retailers voluntarily provided additional information on the amount donated and the type of good causes for the donations.

At least £29.2m was donated to good causes – environment, education, health, arts, charity or voluntary organisations, heritage and sports as well as local causes chosen by customers or staff.

Retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries, but smaller shops and paper bags are not included in the legislation.

Wales introduced a levy in 2011, followed by Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014. They saw reductions in bag use of 76%, 71% and 80%, respectively in the first year after the fee was established.