Plastic bag ‘tax’ shown to slash usage rates

New figures suggest that charging for single-use carrier bags is a highly effective way of reducing their use, with Wales recording a 22% fall in bags last year.

However England and Northern Ireland showed a 7.5% and 8.1% rise in usage rates respectively during 2011, where mandatory charges aren’t applied. In Scotland there was no significant change over the same period.

The data, released by WRAP today (July 5), surveyed carrier bag use by supermarket customers across the UK and found that collectively, 8 billion ‘thin-gauge’ bags were issued in the UK in 2011, a 5.4% rise compared with 2010 (7.6 billion).

However, compared with 2006 when WRAP first began gathering this data, there has been an overall decline of 35% from the 12.2 billion 2006 baseline.

The figures further revealed a 51% reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in the manufacture of all carrier bags – including reusable ‘bags for life’ – since 2006. This would suggest that more recycled materials are now being used in bag manufacture.

The overall trend in usage rates has been welcomed by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), but it pointed out that if UK governments are set on reducing their use further, they will have to look to Wales and go beyond voluntary schemes.

The BRC’s head of environment Bob Gordon said: “Any legislation should be as similar as possible to what’s in place in Wales and we are already working with other governments as they develop their plans.”

Gordon added that while the majority of shoppers “do their best to reuse bags”, shopping trends are changing and “many customers appreciate the bags they’re offered”.

He also pointed out that plastic bags account for a fraction of household waste. “They have a symbolic status, but their impact on the environment is much smaller than other things which retailers are turning their firepower on.”

Last October Wales became the first UK country to introduce a 5p charge for single use carrier bags. The Welsh Government has compiled statistics from 13 leading retail chains that show the distribution of single use carrier bags in the country has reduced by up to 96% since the charge came into force.

Research conducted by Cardiff University indicates that the 5p bag charge is now supported by seven out of ten people in Wales.

Maxine Perella

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