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Sainsbury's chief executive dismisses plastic bag debate

Plastic bags are a poor measure of a supermarkets real greenness, according to Sainsburys chief executive Justin King.

Writing in The Mirror (23 July), King said: Plastic bags make up a tiny proportion of the average persons carbon footprint less than 0.05 per cent, according to one study.

And Sainsburys free bags are made from 50 per cent recycled industrial plastic, which significantly reduces their environmental impact. The carrier bag may be an obvious, iconic issue that makes easy headlines, but the plain truth is it is a poor measure of a supermarkets and a customers real greenness.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs has recently released figures that show that UK retailers failed to meet their voluntary single-use carrier bag reduction target by two per cent.

Supermarkets had reduced distribution of plastic bags by 48 per cent between May 2006 and May 2009 (see MRW story).

King said that this was great news but argued that counting bags at the checkout was no real measure of their environmental impact.

The British Retail Consortium said that it hoped that retailers could reach a 70 per cent single-use carrier bag reduction in the future.

But Liberal Democrat MSP Mike Pringle said that retailers need to set firm targets to ensure they reach a 70 per cent target. He has been campaigning for a plastic bag ban in Scotland.  He explained: Unless we keep pushing it and keep it in check it will go backwards. When are they going to get to 70 per cent in 10 years time?  We have got to have targets.

King has also called for a national recycling strategy. Most shoppers are keen to recycle, but are often let down by individual local facilities and collection schemes. A national approach to recycling services is needed. In the meantime, we will continue to help by providing recycling banks at our larger stores, where customers can return anything from paper, cardboard and bottles, to plastic bags.

Sainsburys has recently pledged to reduce its overall packaging weight by a further third by 2015.

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