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Reuse of carrier bags crucial to minimising impact on environment

Almost 60% of people reuse all carrier bags, while more than two thirds of single-use carrier bags were reused, according to a study carried out by the Environment Agency (EA).

Primarily determining the carbon impact of different types of carrier bags on the environment, the report called Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, found that bag reuse was key to determining the impact of carrier bags on the environment.

Results showed, 59% of respondents reused all carrier bags, 16% reused most, 7% reused half and 7% reused some. Meanwhile, 76% of single-use carrier bags were reused with 53% of these bags used as a replacement for kitchen bin liners and 26% using them as bin liners in other rooms.  11% of respondents said they discarded the bags outright.

Single-use carrier bags have the lowest carbon footprint per bag based on resource use and production. Therefore, the EA calculated that popular plastic ‘bags for life’ need to be used four times  in total to ensure they have a lower carbon footprint than single-use bags. Heavier bags made from woven plastic need to be used 11 times, but a woven cotton carrier bag would need to be used more than 173 times.

It concluded that reusing carrier bags as bin liners produces greater benefits than recycling bags due to the benefits of avoiding the production of the bin liners they replace.

A spokesperson for the EA said: “A significant part of the environmental impact of these bags is associated with the resources used in their production. All multi-use bags need to be reused as much as possible to reduce their relative environmental impact and be responsibly recycled at the end of their life.”

The report did not discuss the generation of litter from plastic bags. It was requested by the previous Government which hoped to find how to reduce the environmental impact of retail and food packaging.

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