Carrier bag charge: In numbers

On Monday (20 October), Scotland will introduce its levy on single-use carrier bags (SUCB), meaning they can no longer be given away free of charge. To help explain the facts and figures surrounding the levy, edie has compiled a list of carrier bag sustainability statistics.

Every retailer in Scotland will charge at least 5p for each new carrier bag they give to shoppers. MSPs voted to bring in the new regulations to help tackle Scotland’s litter problem, but the fee is not just for plastic bags – it will be imposed on carriers made from eco-friendly materials too.

A similar charge applying to single-use carrier bags has already been introduced in Wales and Northern Ireland, dramatically reducing their bag use. England is due to introduce a carrier bag charge in 2015.

Carrier bag charge: In numbers

90% – percentage of bags used in supermarkets that are thin-gauge SUCB.

An Environment Agency study in 2006 comparing the resources and carbon emissions needed to produce, transport and dispose or recycle different types of bag showed that thin plastic bags have the lowest environmental impact in terms of carbon emissions. 

439mm x 404mm – maximum size of bags classed as ‘single use’.

The Scottish Government defines ‘single-use carrier bags’ as those supplied with the intention that they are to be used once to carry goods away from the point of sale.

49µm (micrometres) – maximum thickness of the material used to manufacture a plastic SUCB.

Many SUCBs are made of oil based plastic, which is a non-renewable resource. Each plastic bag can take up to 500-1000 years to decompose, and may never break-down in landfill.

86% – percentage of SUCB that end up in landfill.

In January, the Co-operative Group announced that it was rolling out compostable carrier bags to hundreds of its stores nationwide.

According to the Co-operative food’s environment manager, Iain Ferguson, every compostable carrier bag used is one less conventional plastic shopping bag in circulation.

“We believe they will have a significant impact upon the number of plastic bags which end up in landfill sites every year,” he commented.

In July, edie reported on a new survey by which found that seven out of 10 shoppers throw out supermarket ‘bags for life’ after only a few shops.

8.3 billion – number of thin-gauge SUBCs used in 2013 by UK supermarket customers.

A total of 8.3bn single-use carrier bags were issued in the UK in 2013.This represents an increase of 3.2% compared with 2012 when 8.1bn bags were used. However, compared with 2006 when 12.2bn bags were taken by consumers, this represents a decrease of 32%.

5p – minimum levy to be introduced in Scotland on 20 October and England next October.

In May, the Scottish Parliament approved regulations to introduce a charge for single-use carrier bags, which will be brought into law under the Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014, were approved by MSPs in a vote by 100 votes to 12.

The charge has already been implemented in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

81% – decrease in the demand for SUCB in Wales between 2010 and 2012.

WRAP chief executive Liz Goodwin said that Wales was the first country in the UK to introduce charges for single-use carrier bags.

90% – decrease in Republic of Ireland’s plastic bag use in the since 2002.  

The first country in the world to implement a minimum charge through its plastic bag tax in 2002, the Republic of Ireland initially set the charge at 15 cent (12p) per bag but increased this to 22 cent (18p) in 2007.

750 million – number of disposable bags currently used each year in Scotland.

The hope is that the number of SUCB used in Scotland will decrease at the same rate as those in Wales and Northern Ireland.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “Charging for carrier bags has been highly successful in changing behaviour elsewhere, so it’s great news Scotland is now going to do likewise. Single-use carrier bags are symbolic of our wasteful attitude to resource use which must be addressed if Scotland’s vision of a zero waste future is to be realised.

“The millions of carrier bags used every year pollute our environment, threaten wildlife and take decades to break down in landfills.”

67,300 tonnes – combined weight of SUCBs used in the UK in 2013.

This figure compares with 70,400 tonnes in 2012, representing a 4.4% decrease. There has been a 39% decrease in the weight of carrier bags since 2006.

£1.8m – amount of money expected to be raised from carrier bag charges in Scotland and Wales.

In July, Zero Waste Scotland launched a Carrier Bag Commitment scheme which will see retailers across the country donate proceeds from the 5p carrier bag charge to charitable causes.

In August, Tesco launched a public vote to name beneficiaries of funds to be raised from carrier bag charges in both Scotland and Wales.

Carrier bag charge: edie timeline

Motivating shops and shoppers to take plastic bag reuse and recycling seriously has been in the headlines throughout the year, so here is edie’s year of the plastic bag so far:

15 January: Co-op issues compostable carrier bags – The Co-operative rolled out carrier bags which can be re-used as household compost bags for food waste

29 May: Scotland approves carrier bag charge – Scottish Parliament approves new regulations to introduce carrier bag charge in October

4 June: Plastic bag tax announced in Queen’s speech – the Government announces commitment to reduce single-use plastic bag consumption with a 5p levy to be introduced in England

17 June: MPs slam overcomplicated carrier bag tax – Government proposals for the carrier bag charge criticised by Environmental Audit Committee

1 July: Zero Waste Scotland launches Carrier Bag Commitment – Scottish retailers plan to donate 5p charge from carrier bags to charitable causes

15 July: Plastic bag use on the up -WRAP found that plastic bag use had increased on 2012 levels by 3.2%, totalling 8.3bn single-use bags and a total of 8.8bn carrier bags issued by supermarkets

11 August: Tesco announces charity shortlist for carrier bag windfall – Tesco launched a public vote to name beneficiaries of an estimated £1.8m to be raised from carrier bag charges in Scotland and Wales.

6 October: Superdry signs bag-saving charity pledge – fashion brand Superdry signed up to Zero Waste Scotland’s Carrier Bag Commitment.

Lois Vallely

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