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Supermarkets cut plastic bag use by 48%

Stores just short of plastic bag reduction target

shopping at the supermarket

Plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down

Seven of the UK’s biggest supermarkets have cut the number of plastic bags they hand out by 48% – two per cent short of the 50% plastic bag reduction target they had committed to.

Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose and the Co-op (now including Somerfield) had already reduced the number of plastic bags they gave out by 25% between 2006 to 2008. At the end of 2008 they aimed collectively to cut the total by another quarter within six months.

They just missed their plastic bag target – but this still means that 452m plastic bags were given out in May 2009 compared to the 870m given out in May 2006. To put those figures in context, around 10bn plastic bags are given away by supermarkets in Britain each year.

Plastic bag reduction

The Which? guide to reducing plastic bag use shows how much recycled material different supermarkets’ bags contain, how biodegradable they are and supermarkets’ policies on bags for life.

The 48% plastic bag reduction was part of a voluntary agreement between the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and the British Retail Consortium

An earlier Defra agreement with 21 high street retailers including Boots, Dixons, Currys, Next, Primark, John Lewis, Argos and Homebase resulted in a 26% reduction in the number of plastic bags given out between May 2006 and May 2008.

If you want to know about the quality of the groceries within all these plastic bags, as well as supermarket customer service, read our High Street shops survey of 14,000 Which? members.

Charging for plastic bags?

The Climate Change Act gave the government the power to force retailers to impose a minimum charge on single-use plastic bags. The Welsh Assembly Government is making use of those powers, having launched a consultation into plastic bag charges which closes on 21 September 2009.

Defra, however, has no such plans, telling Which? there are ‘no plans to change our policy, especially in the current economic climate’.

No options have been ruled out completely however, and progress on the reduction of the number of plastic bags will be reviewed by the department in the summer of 2010, which says the long-term aim is a 70% cut.

Visit Which?’s greener living section for more on green and environmental issues.

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