England sees surge in shoppers using their own carrier bags

The overwhelming majority of the English population now carry their own bags when food shopping following the introduction of the 5p carrier bag charge a year ago, new research has revealed.

A study from Cardiff University surveying 3000 people shows that nine in 10 shoppers now take their own bags, an increase from seven in 10 before the charge was introduced. According to the research, less than one in 15 shoppers are now regularly taking single-use carrier bags at the checkout, as opposed to one in four shoppers before the charge.

Lead researcher Professor Wouter Poortinga said: “Overall, our research has shown that the English carrier bag charge has had a strong and positive impact on people’s attitudes and behaviours and that it successfully disrupted people using plastic bags.”

Growing popularity

The results come from the first study to examine the attitudes and behaviour of people in England since the single-use carrier bag charge was introduced last October. Over the next 10 years, the Government hopes to raise more than £730m from the levy, which has already seen the number of plastic shopping bags handed out by retailers in England drop from seven billion to just over half a billion within six months.

The Cardiff University research shows a growth from 51% to 62% in support in England for the carrier bag charge since it was introduced. The study also reveals significant increases in the amount of people taking own carrier bags to shops other than supermarkets. For instance, reportedly one in two now regularly take their own bags when shopping for clothes and healthcare products, compared to only one in 10 before the charge was introduced.

“We’ve seen that the charge has become increasingly popular with the English population since it was introduced, and that it has changed attitudes towards waste policies as well,” Poortinga added.

Responsible retailers

The research follows on from a blog written exclusively for edie by FoodCycle chief executive Mary McGrath on the achievements of the plastic bag tax. McGrath commented that in the main, most of us are now pretty much used to bringing a ‘Bag for Life’ to the supermarket and saying no to the offer of a plastic bag when we have only a few items to carry from the checkout.

The carrier bag charge has led to a number of commitments from UK retailers as part of a shift in attitudes and growing ambitions to take more responsibility in reducing environmental impacts.

German discount supermarket chain Lidl UK could save an estimated 63 million plastic bags per year after it pledged yesterday (28 September) to remove single-use plastic carrier bags from sale across all stores in England, Scotland and Wales.

closer look at the data reveals a big difference in the way the carrier bag charge is now being dealt with by the seven major retailers (Tesco, Sainsbury’s Asda, Morrisons, M&S, Waitrose and Co-op). Asda, for example, announced recently that it would be passing its £1m carrier bag profits onto Scottish social enterprises.

Coffee cup charge?

The Cardiff University study suggests that other similar policies could be successfully implemented, such as a deposit return scheme on plastic bottles or a charge on disposable coffee cups. The Liberal Democrats recently called for a 5p charge on disposable coffee cups to cut usage, with leader Tim Farron suggesting that the charge would lead to two billion fewer paper cups being sent to landfill each year if as successful as the carrier bag tax.

Meanwhile, in another exclusive blog for edie today, Simply Cups co-founder Peter Goodwin looked at the merits of the most commonly cited solutions – biodegradable cups, compostable cups and cups that are deemed ‘acceptable’ by paper mills – to understand how they compare to the standard polyethylene-lined cup which is currently widely used across the hospitality industry.

Despite many coffee shop retailers previously advertising their cups as ‘100% recyclable’, the recent Hugh’s War on Waste TV programme shed light on a sad reality that as much as 2.5 billion disposable cups are thrown away every year in the UK, but just one in 400 are recycled.

George Ogleby

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