Supermarkets act on plastic bagsPlastic bag use still rising in some stores

27 September 2007

Supermarket carrier bags

We've found the supermarkets that are leading the way when it comes to cutting down on plastic bags.

Some 13 billion plastic bags  are used by shoppers each year, so Which? asked the major supermarkets what they were doing to reduce usage.

The big stores have signed up to a government initiative to reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by a quarter by the end of 2008 – the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road in terms of emissions.

In our results, the most successful stores at cutting down on their carrier bags are Tesco (down 15% in 12 months), Waitrose (down 14%) and Somerfield (down 10%).

At the same time, however, some stores are seeing an increase in plastic bag use – Aldi (up 16%) and Marks and Spencer (up 10% to 15%).

Recycled bags

Most stores now produce recyclable carrier bags and usually provide recycling bins for shoppers, although Co-op and Lidl said they don’t provide bins and Marks and Spencer does this only in Northern Ireland.

Carrier bags are still made mainly from virgin rather than recycled plastic – Sainsbury’s bags contain the most recycled material, at 33%, but Lidl plans to introduce a 100% recycled bag soon.

There are also differences in attitude to using biodegradeable bags. Only Co-op, Somerfield and Tesco have carrier bags that will break down totally within three years, leaving no harmful residue.

But Asda and Waitrose said that they had concerns about biodegradeable bags – they’re still sent to landfill sites and, unlike ordinary carrier bags, they emit the harmful greenhouse gas methane.

Supermarket performance on bags
SupermarketCarrier bag use in 2006Change between 2005 and 2006Recycled material in carrier bagsBiodegradeable carrier bagsCost of recyclable bag for life
Aldi
 
42m16%0%NoFreec
Asda
 
2.2bnno change10%NoFrom 5p
Co-op
 
700m-8%0%YesFrom 10p
Lidlno answer'slight decrease'0% (100% later this year)NoFreec
M&S
 
440mno answer20%No10p
Morrisonsno answer10 to 15%12.5% (target 25% for end 2008)No10p
Sainsbury's
 
1.5bn-6.5%33%NoFrom 10p
Somerfield
 
800m-10%0%Yes10p
Tesco4bna-15%bno answerYesFrom 10p
Waitrose
 
295m-14%30%No10p
Table notes
a
No answer - figures calculated from tesco website
b
August 2006 to August 2007
c
99p for non-recyclable bag