Supermarkets and shops cut plastic bag useFigures today show a 26% cut in plastic bags

26 February 2009

shopping at the supermarket

Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down

Supermarkets and high street shops have cut the amount of plastic bags handed out to shoppers by more than a quarter since 2006, according to new figures.

Waste reduction agency Wrap said the amount of plastic bags handed out had been cut by 26% by the end of 2008, and Asda, the Co-operative, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose have committed to cut the number of single use bags handed out by half by the end of May this year.

Supermarkets reduce plastic bag numbers

The figures from Wrap show that high-street shops and supermarkets exceeded the voluntary target to reduce the environmental impact of plastic bags by 25% by the end of the 2008.

By reducing the number of bags handed out, increasing recycling and reducing the weight of bags, shop chains have reduced the ‘environmental impact’ of carrier bags by 40% in terms of the amount of new plastic used.

If Asda, the Co-operative, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose  met the May target it would mean 4.5 billion fewer bags handed out each year across England, Wales and Northern Ireland, Defra said. Environment Minister Jane Kennedy said the supermarkets were on the way to meeting the ‘ambitious’ target.

Consumers help plastic bag reduction

Dr Liz Goodwin, chief executive of Wrap, said: ‘Consumers deserve congratulations for these results as they clearly show we are moving away from using bags once to re-using bags often.'

And Jane Milne, from the British Retail Consortium, said: ‘We need every customer to help us by remembering their bags for life on planned shopping trips and, where they do need to take an ordinary carrier bag, re-using it on five or six shopping trips before returning it for recycling.’

Supermarkets warned on plastic bags

Last February, Prime Minister Gordon Brown warned that the government was ready to force supermarkets to reduce use of plastic bags if they did not take steps voluntarily to do so.

Powers were included in the Climate Change Act to allow the government to impose a charge on single-use bags, if action was not taken to reduce the 13.4 billion bags given out to consumers in 2006. The figures from Wrap today shows that figure dropped to 9.9 billion bags in 2008.

Environment Department Defra said meeting the target to cut the number of bags by 50% on 2006 levels would equal taking 41,000 cars off the road. It would also reduce the amount of plastic bags ending up as litter or in landfill, where they take up to 1,000 years to decay.

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