Supermarkets cut plastic bag useNumber of bags handed out down 43% in four years

25 August 2010

shopping at the supermarket

Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down

Supermarkets are winning the war on wasteful plastic bag use – according to figures released today.

In 2006 10.6 billion single-use carrier bags were handed out by supermarkets. In the 12 months to May this year the figure stood at 6.1 billion – a reduction of 43%.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC), which compiled the figures, claimed they were a ‘ringing endorsement’ of the voluntary approach to cutting carrier bag use introduced in 2008.

Plastic bag tactics

As part of this strategy, supermarkets adopted a range of tactics to encourage customers away from single-use bags, including measures ranging from hiding them at the checkout to charging a small fee for reusable bags.

BRC director general Stephen Robertson said: ‘This is a tremendous achievement by supermarkets, customers and staff, especially as between 2006 and 2009 the amount of goods sold by participating retailers grew by over 6%. The sustained reduction shows that customers are permanently adopting the habit of re-using their bags.’

Bag use high online

However, while bag use may be falling at the checkout, a recent Which? investigation found supermarkets could do more to minimise the number of bags used by their online delivery services.

Tesco used 13 bags to deliver just 29 items. Sainsbury’s provided 10, while Ocado and Asda’s goods each came in nine bags. Least wasteful was Waitrose with eight bags, although the practice of packing in groups – such as all frozen goods together – meant some of its bags were still underpacked. 

See our satisfaction survey of online supermarkets to find out how the big names fared on aspects of service, such as convenience, freshness of the food and whether they actually deliver what was ordered.