The usage of plastic bags in the UK has declined after the introduction of a £0.05 (€0.059; $0.07) charge on them, in October 2015, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), has revealed. Six billion fewer single-use plastic bags were taken home by shoppers in the country, the weight of which is equivalent to about 300 blue whales, 300,000 sea turtles or 3 million pelicans, it added.

Defra's press release published today (30 July) explained this further with the help of numbers. It said that while over 7 billion plastic bags were issued to customers in 2014 by seven main retailers, only over 0.5 billion bags were issued in the first six months of the charge.

Plastic bags usage in the UK declinesby6billionsincetheintroductionofa5pcharge
The charge imposed on plastic bags has led to over £29m being donated to good causesGetty

Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey praised the results. "Taking six billion plastic bags out of circulation is fantastic news for all of us – it will mean our precious marine life is safer, our communities are cleaner and future generations won't be saddled with mountains of plastic sat taking hundreds of years to breakdown in landfill sites," she said.

Defra further added that the charge imposed on plastic bags not only had a positive effect on the environment, but it also led to over £29m (€34.33m; $38.46m) being donated to good causes. This amount was contributed to both charities and community groups, it said.

"The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success – not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefitted from an impressive £29 million raised. The 5p charge has clearly been a huge success – not only for our environment but for good causes across the country that have benefitted from an impressive £29 million raised," Coffey added.

Dr Sue Kinsey, Technical Specialist, Waste at the Marine Conservation Society said: "We are delighted to see that the bag charge in England is showing positive results. This is a significant reduction that will benefit the environment as a whole, and our sea life in particular. There is always more that we can do and we encourage everyone to join in on our Great British Beach Clean this September to help keep our coastlines clean."