Plastic bag usage on the up, WRAP data shows

The number of single-use plastic bags handed out to shoppers by UK supermarkets has risen for the fourth year running, according to new figures for WRAP.

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 to 2006 when 12.2bn bags were taken by consumers, this represents a decrease of 32%.

It is the fourth year in a row the number of throwaway plastic bags has risen.

The overall number of bags, including reusable bags, issued by supermarkets in 2013 totalled 8.8bn. This compares to 8.5bn bags in 2012 and 12.4bn bags in 2006. UK shoppers are using an average of almost 11 bags per month.

In 2013, the total weight of all bags including reusable bags was 67,300 tonnes, compared with 70,400 tonnes in 2012, which represents a 4.4% decrease. Overall, there has been a 39% decrease in the weight of carrier bags from the baseline year of 2006.

Between 2006 and 2013, there has been a 48% reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in all carrier bags between the baseline of 2006 and 2013.

The figures come at a time when Scotland is due to introduce a 5p charge for carrier bags in October. Wales and Northern Ireland already have a 5p carrier bag charge and England is due to introduce one in 2015.

Consumption of single-use carrier bags in Wales has reduced by 79% since 2010, according to figures from WRAP.

Natural Resources Minister John Griffiths praised the Welsh public for adapting “extremely well” to the carrier bag charge. He said: “Our 5p carrier bag charge really has had a significant impact on shopping habits across Wales and it is helping us to become a less wasteful society.”

However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) said it has concerns with the new legislation proposed in England to reduce the number of bags, claiming that it “will not deliver the same environmental benefit as in the rest of the UK”.

BRC environment policy adviser Alice Ellison said: “The reductions in Wales and Northern Ireland indicate that legislation can trigger significant reductions in carrier bag use.

“However, the proposed regulations in England are unnecessarily complex and offer too many exemptions. As drafted they will not deliver the same environmental impact as the rest of the UK and need the Government to accept that the best way is a simple scheme which is consistent and easily understood by everyone.

“Bag usage may not have fallen, but that doesn’t mean that supermarkets’ progress has stalled on addressing this and wider environmental issues.

“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.”

Liz Gyekye

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