Dozens of companies have signed up to a voluntary agreement which will commit them to cut the waste produced by the bags they hand out to customers.

All of the UK’s leading supermarkets have signed up to the agreement brokered by WRAP, Defra and the British Retail Consortium and they have been joined by a number of other big names in retail such as Halfords, Debenhams and Boots as well as several trade associations representing a host of smaller traders.

The agreement does not tie signatories to a method, just a result, and retailers are expected to follow one or more of three main avenues in achieving that.

The obvious options are to encourage customers to use less bags, reduce the impact of each individual bag by making them thinner or upping their recycled content and making more bag recycling facilities available while encouraging re-use.

If achieved, the 25% reduction target could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 58,500 tonnes a year – equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off the road for a year.

It has been heralded by Government as another example of the simple practical measures that can be taken to help tackle climate change.

Ben Bradshaw. Defra Minister with responsibility for waste, said: “This is an ambitious but very practical agreement and we are pleased that the retailers have agreed to work with us and UK consumers in such a positive way.

“Consumers are increasingly aware that they can make positive choices to help the environment in the way they shop. By signing up to this statement, the UK’s retailers have also committed to help their customers to reduce, reuse and recycle their carrier bags.”

Nigel Smith, British Retail Consortium Director of Environmental Policy said: “Retailers are already rewarding re-use, promoting ‘bags for life’, using and developing alternative materials and trialling bigger bags that carry more shopping. They want to take that further.

“25% is an ambitious target for the industry as a whole. It will require the Government’s support in encouraging customers to reduce, re- use, recycle and take an improved approach to household waste management.”

Each signatory is now working with WRAP to identify a baseline figure against which the reduction in environmental impact can be measured and reported. Progress will be monitored jointly by the retailer signatories, government and WRAP and a review will be completed before the end of 2008 to see what would be required to make further reductions by 2010.

WRAP director Phillip Ward, said: “This initiative builds on WRAP’s broader work with the retail sector to reduce packaging waste. Where there is genuine commitment, flexible voluntary arrangements like this can be successful in bringing change.”

Sam Bond

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