Carrier bag use rises in 2011
Figures released today by WRAP, the government funded body that encourages waste reduction and recycling, shows there was an increase in the number of single-use carrier bags used by UK supermarket customers in 2011.
A total of 8 billion 'thin-gauge' bags were issued in the UK in 2011, compared to 7.6 billion the year before. The figures reveal a 7.5% rise in England, an 8.1% rise in Northern Ireland but no significant change in Scotland. In Wales, where a minimum bag charge of five pence was introduced in October 2011, there was a 22% fall in the number of bags issued.
Compared with 2006, when WRAP first began gathering data, there has been an overall decline of 35% from the 12.2 billion 2006 baseline.
Commenting on the figures, the British Retail Consortium attributed the increase to changing spending habits during the economic downturn such as families increasingly doing several smaller grocery shops during the week rather than one big trip. It also highlighted a switch from travelling by car to public transport.
While maintaining that bags are not such a major environmental issue as many believe, the BRC said the government would need to go beyond voluntary schemes if it wished to reduce their use further.
British Retail Consortium head of environment, Bob Gordon, explained: "It's no surprise the use of a bag charge in Wales has reduced the number of bags taken by consumers there. If other governments see reducing the use of carrier bags as a priority, they will have to take a lead and go beyond voluntary measures. 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."
He added: "Plastic bags account for a fraction of 1% of household waste and the amount of new plastic being used in today's bags is half what it was in 2006. They have a symbolic status but their impact on the environment is much smaller than other things which retailers are turning their firepower on."
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