Tesco’s single-use carrier bag numbers drop by 1.5 billion

On the first anniversary of the carrier bag charge roll-out, UK supermarket giant Tesco has revealed that more than 1.5 billion single-use carrier bags have been saved by its customers in England since the levy's introduction.

The figures represent a 72% fall in the use-of single-use plastic bags being used in Tesco stores, while 57% of online customers are now selecting ‘bagless’ deliveries.

Tesco has used the money raised from the charge to help fund 1170 community projects as part of the retailer’s Bags of Help initiative. The programme has invested almost £12m on initiatives selected by customers, with charities and community groups awarded grants ranging from £8,000 to £12,000.

Tesco UK & ROI communications director George Gordon said: “We’re encouraging our customers to use fewer single-use bags, so these figures are really encouraging. Also the money raised from our customers buying bags is making a big difference to local communities across the country.

“Thanks to Bags of Help, nearly £12 million has been spent so far on local environmental improvement projects like parks, sports facilities, school playgrounds and community gardens – projects that have all been chosen by our customers. Going forward, we will help customers do even more for their communities by bringing together more projects for them to vote on every month.”

Success story

The number of plastic shopping bags handed out by retailers in England has dropped from seven billion to just over half a billion within six months, following the introduction of the 5p carrier bag tax on 5 October last year.

Last week, German discount supermarket chain Lidl UK pledged to remove single-use plastic carrier bags from sale across all stores in England, Scotland and Wales. The commitment is set to save an estimated 63 million plastic bags per year – the equivalent of 760 tonnes of plastic.

The carrier bag charge represents something of a CSR success story, with retailers now using the profits gained from the charge to boost a number of in social development projects.

Asda, for example, announced recently that it would be passing its £1m carrier bag profits onto Scottish social enterprises. Marks & Spencer is also donating half of the proceeds from the bag charge to local charities, and the other half to international charities such as Macmillan Cancer Research and the Marine Conservation Society.

Speaking on the carrier bag first anniversary, Veolia UK and Ireland technical directo Richard Kirkman stated: “In just 365 days we’ve seen a huge drop in carrier bags coming through our facilities. In fact, plasticbags collected by Veolia have reduced from an estimated 170 million to 40 million, since the 5p charge came into practice last October – that’s a huge 75% reduction. This is a great achievement and something we, as a nation, should be very proud of.

“At Veolia we’re now turning the carrier bags we do receive into new refuse sacks. Through our Bag2Bag scheme, launched in Southwark, we’re able to recycle the low density film – the main material in single use bags – back into single use refuse sacks that are then distributed back to Southwark residents.

Taxing waste

Over the next 10 years, the Government hopes to raise more than £730m from the levy, which has already seen carrier bag usage drop by as much as 80%.

Last week, research revealed that the overwhelming majority of the English population now carry their own bags when food shopping following the charge introduction. The research followed on from a blog written exclusively for edie by FoodCycle chief executive Mary McGrath, which highlighted that 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.

Commentators indicate 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.

George Ogleby

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