Bad news on bag use as consumption increases year-on-year

Progress on reducing the number of single-use carrier bags issued in the UK has stalled according to the latest figures from WRAP - in fact, last year saw an increase in usage.

UK supermarket customers took home 8.1bn of them in 2012, a 1.3% increase compared with 2011. Commentators are quick to point out, however, that this still represents a decrease of 34% compared with the 2006 baseline when reporting began. Plus, by weight, total tonnage of carrier bags (including re-useable bags) has actually come down, from 72,300 tonnes in 2011 to 70,400 tonnes in 2012 thanks to a reduction in the average weight of bags.

However, this is counterbalanced by a 2.4% increase in the amount of virgin polymer used in all carrier bags.

Based on data from Asda, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose, the figures will come as no surprise to some of the participating retailers.

Last month the Co-operative Group revealed that consumption of single-use carrier bags in its stores had risen 2% in 2012 and that it was reviewing its re-usable bag range as a result.

While figures across the UK rose in 2012, it’s by no means a uniform picture across the board. The figures represent the first full year of data since a carrier bag levy was introduced in Wales. While not comparing like for likes, the trend is clear in that usage in Wales dropped from 270m bags in 2011 to just 70m in 2012 – a reduction of 76%. England by comparison, saw usage increase 4.4%.

Commenting on the figures, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) defended the work retailers were doing to reduce bag consumption, saying the rise reflects a change in shopping habits as consumers are increasingly doing ‘top-up’ shopping in addition to a larger weekly shop.

BRC director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie, said: “Bag usage may not have fallen, but that doesn’t mean that supermarkets’ progress has stalled on addressing this and wider environmental issues.

“Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, but the sector is still working hard to keep pace whilst helping customers to reduce their environmental impact. The majority of shoppers do their best to reuse bags and take as few new bags as possible, and the rapid roll-out of store recycling points and green incentives online is making this good practice easier and more widespread.

“Supermarkets’ environmental work extends well beyond carrier bags to wider and more important green goals including reducing packaging, domestic food waste and waste to landfill. Retailers have beaten a range of challenging Government targets in these areas, delivering real environmental benefits as well as value for customers.”

edie staff

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