M&S to charge food shoppers for carrier bagsNorthern Ireland trial could roll out across UK

22 May 2007

Marks & Spencer stepped up its drive for ethical trading today with a trial scheme which will see customers charged for carrier bags.

Food shoppers at the group's 14 stores in Northern Ireland will have to pay 5p for every plastic carrier bag they use in a trial starting in July.

During June, customers will be offered free 'Bags for Life' with every food transaction. Then, for the month of July, customers will have to pay for their plastic carriers.

It was reported today that the trial could then be rolled out to the rest of the UK.

'Plan A'

The move comes as part of M&S's drive, called 'Plan A', towards ethical trading and the promotion of healthy lifestyles.

The five-year scheme will see M&S become carbon neutral, stop sending waste to landfill and extend its sustainable sourcing by 2012.

The group also announced that, in partnership with its suppliers, it will develop two 'eco-factories' to pioneer methods of sustainable manufacturing.

The factories will make lingerie in Sri Lanka and upholstery for furniture in North Wales. Both sites will be carbon neutral and will have green roofs made from vegetation with the ability to harvest rainwater.

M&S said it would donate the money raised from the plastic bags trial to the charity Groundwork Northern Ireland.

It also has reduced the cost of its 'Bag for Life', from 15p to 10p, which it said led to a 68 per cent uplift in sales.

Recycled bags

At the same time, M&S increased the amount of recycled plastic used to make its carrier bags, reducing the use of non-recycled plastic by 2,000 tonnes each year. All general merchandise carrier bags are now made from 100 per cent recycled consumer waste, and by the end of June all standard food carrier bags will contain 20 per cent recycled content.

Chief Executive Stuart Rose said: 'This is a business-wide plan, which means we are fundamentally changing the way we operate, and not just cherry picking individual initiatives.'

Marks's name as an ethical retailer was boosted earlier this year with the launch of 'Fairtrade Fortnight' in February. The group extended its Fairtrade range to 70 products and is currently the biggest retailer of Fairtrade cotton products on the high street in the UK.

Following the conversion of whole ranges of food, such as tea, coffee and sugar in all its jams and marmalades, Fairtrade food sales rose to £22 million in the year to the end of March. This compares to a figure of £4 million last year. Organic sales also rose 47 per cent.

As part of the ethical drive, the company will also donate 5 per cent of its Back to School range sales to send 20,000 children in western Uganda to school. The group hopes to raise at least £500,000, which will pay for the construction of more than 120 new classrooms and provide a safe water supply for six of Uganda's poorest schools.

The Press Association, All Rights Reserved.