The number of single-use plastic bags issued by supermarkets has risen in England but dropped off in Wales following the devolved administration’s decision to tax carrier bags, official estimates have revealed.
WRAP said some eight billion ‘thin-gauge’ bags were issued in the UK in 2011 - a 5.4% rise compared to 7.6 billion in 2010.
However, there were marked regional variations with Wales - which taxes plastic bags - posting a 22% fall.
England posted a 7.5% rise, Northern Ireland an 8.1% rise while there was no significant change in Scotland over the same period.
A WRAP statement said: “Compared with 2006, when WRAP first began gathering this data, there has been an overall decline of 35% from the 12.2 billion 2006 baseline.”
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) attributed the rise to changing spending habits in the UK: “The ongoing squeeze on people’s disposable incomes means families are increasingly doing several smaller grocery shops during the week rather than one big trip, plus there is a switch away from going by car in favour of public transport.
“For both of these reasons consumers are less likely to have reusable bags with them and are therefore making slightly greater use of the bags made available by some retailers.”
Wales’ environment minister, John Griffiths, said the statistics vindicated the devolved administration’s decision to put a levy on plastics bags.
He said: “These results show that the way to significantly reduce the use of single use carrier bags is for governments to introduce a charge to customers for them.
“Net profits from single use bag purchase are donated by retailers to local charities and environmental causes.
“I am delighted that research and retail figures support what shoppers and retailers have been telling us for some time. Today’s figures are a fantastic result for the people and businesses of Wales. The public have adjusted brilliantly to our bag charge and the majority now regularly take their own bags with them when they go shopping. “
Data on carrier bags issued by supermarkets has been gathered and analysed by WRAP at the request of UK governments on an annual basis since 2006.
The figures also reveal there has been a 51% reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in the manufacture of all carrier bags (including re-usable ‘bags for life’) since 2006.
The statement added: “Between 2010 and 2011 there was an 11% increase.
“Even taking this into account, the overall downward trend in the number of bags being used suggests that more recycled materials are being used in bag manufacture than in 2006.”