The findings from WRAP showed England remained the only country to continue to significantly increase the number of plastic bags used per person, with Scotland seeing significant falls in use following the introduction of its plastic bag charge.

The increase represents a 2.4% increase between 2013 and 2014 ahead of the introduction of compulsory plastic bag charges in England later this year.

The nine billion plastic bags included 440 million bags for life issued in 2014. Consumers in England used an average of 11.7 plastic bags per month in 2014, up from 11.5 in 2013 and 10 in 2010.

England has seen the number of thin-gauge plastic carrier bags, which make up most the bags used in supermarkets and shops, increase by more than 20% since 2010.

Scottish commitment

Scotland, however, saw its number of single use plastic bags fall from an average of 12.6 per consumer per month in 2013 to 10.3 last year, down 18.3%.

Scotland introduced a charge for single use carrier bags in October 2014, with the changes clearly making a difference in the three months data was recorded after the charge by WRAP.

The changes to Scotland’s plastic bag use figures were praised by environmental groups. WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “It’s fantastic to learn that carrier bag usage in Scotland has dropped so spectacularly since the 5p charge was introduced.  As well as removing millions of bags from circulation, it’s also great that over two million pounds has been raised for good causes across the country.”

Many Scottish retailers also signed up to a carrier bag commitment, calling on shops to donate the 5p charge from carrier bags to charitable causes.

Banks added: “Before the charge Scotland consumed a staggering 800 million carrier bags every year, many of which ended up polluting our environment and threatening wildlife. The clear success of this initiative should encourage Ministers to press on with other bold ideas to help make Scotland a zero-waste nation.”

England at last

Wales has seen its thin-gauge plastic bag use plummet 78.2% since 2010 and Northern Ireland has seen a fall of more than 80%. 

Wales introduced a 5p carrier bag charge in 2011 and Northern Ireland introduced the charge in 2013.

England is set to finally join the rest of the UK in the carrier bag charge in October 2015.

Resource Minister Rory Stewart said: “Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country.”

He added the introduction of the 5p bag charge would likely see a “significant reduction in England, possibly by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.”

Plastic bag use in the UK has fallen overall compared to the baseline year 2006, when more than 12bn plastic bags were used.

WRAP’s data found almost 70,000 tonnes of plastic bags are used in the UK each year. Millions of tonnes of plastic waste are understood to end up in the world’s oceans each year.

You can catch up on the full story of the plastic bag charge using edie’s timeline.

Matt Field

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie