UK carrier bag use halves in three years

By Rory Harrington

- Last updated on GMT

The number of single-use carrier bags used by UK supermarkets and their customers has plummeted by almost half in three years, new Government figures have revealed.

In England some 718 million bags were handed out in May 2006 but by May 2009 this figure has dropped by 48 per cent to 372 million. In Scotland the 39 million fewer bags handed out in the same review period marked a 49 per cent fall, while in Wales 26 million bags less bags were used.

Voluntary target

The substantial drop comes just six months after seven leading supermarkets - Asda, Co-operative Group (now incorporating Somerfield), Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose - pledged to achieve a 50 per cent cut in the number of bags they give compared with 2006 figures.

This voluntary target built on the reduction of 26 per cent in the number of bags given out between 2006 and 2008, said a statement from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Environment Secretary Hilary Benn said; “The target of a 50 per cent reduction was only narrowly missed and retailers have really put a lot into this in the last six months. This means that several hundred million fewer carrier bags are going to landfill every month and we’re using less raw materials to make them.”

Changing customer habits

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) also hailed the achievement saying it proved that voluntary agreements can deliver. The body said the reduction had been realised because retailers were able to tailor-make solutions according to the needs of their respective customers.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: "This is a spectacular achievement - especially as between 2006 and 2008 the seven participating supermarkets grew sales volumes by five per cent.

"Changing customer habits on this scale, this quickly, isn't easy. But it's a huge testament to customers, who've switched to bags for life and cut bag usage. These figures send a clear message: the voluntary approach is very successful and can lead to better informed customers and lasting change.”

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