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Carrier bag use falls for fourth year in a row

UK supermarkets have confirmed that they have continued to reduce the total number of bags given out for the fourth year in a row, according to figures published today (Wednesday August, 25) by the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The data includes results from Asda, Cooperative Group (now incorporating Somerfield), Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose and demonstrates a  41% reduction in bag use (including single-use bags, bags for life and reusable bags) since figures were first recorded in 2006.

According to the report, Review of Supermarket Carrier Bag Use 2010, in 2006 a total of 10.9billion bags were used but that amount has since decreased by 4.5billion to 6.5billion per year in 2009/10, reducing the amount of material used in bags by 39,700 tonnes per year.

These figures build on a voluntary pledge to halve the number of single-use carrier bags between May 2006 and May 2009, which ended last year. However, the retailers volunteered to share their data again this year.

The overall picture is positive, demonstrating that bag use has continued to fall since the end of the voluntary agreement last year even though there has been an average 6.3% sales growth by signatory supermarkets between 2006-2009.

 2006 (baseline)2008/092009/10Number reduction from 06 – 09/10Weight reduction from 06 – 09/10
UK10.9 billion7.2 billion6.5 billion4.5 billion (41%)39,700 tonnes (-42%)

British Retail Consortium 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 reaction shows that customers are adopting the habit of re-using their bags.”

A representative from Tesco said: “Tesco has led the way in helping customers reduce the number of carrier bags they use, and the WRAP figures show once again this voluntary approach is working. A typical Tesco customer now uses less than half the bags they did in August 2006, and while we can and will do even more to reduce carrier bag usage, initiatives such as Green Clubcard Points for using fewer bags have made a real difference.”

A spokesperson for M&S commented: “Last year (09/10) we used 89 million single-use carrier bags in our food business – over 80 per cent less than 06/07 when we launched Plan A. This has been achieved by encouraging customers to re-use, use bags for life and charging 5p per carrier bag. The profits from the charge have raised over £2 million for environmental charity Groundwork which has been used for 79 projects across the UK.”

The only anomaly in the figures occurred in WRAP’s monthly spot check analysis of single-use bags used during the month of May. In May 2009 452million single-use bags were used but in May 2010 this number had increased to 475million. However, overall bag use was still down.

A representative from WRAP said: “It gives a more accurate picture to look at the yearly results, rather than the monthly data, as they take into account all seasonal changes and busier shopping periods such as Christmas.”

The figures also show the regional differences between England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Wales, which recently launched a consultation on potentially imposing a 7p carrier bag levy, demonstrates the largest percentage reduction in single-use bags between 2008/9 and 2009/10.

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