Welsh retailers score in carrier bag cut-back

The number of single-use carrier bags used by supermarket shoppers rose last year, according to new statistics

Data from the government’s Waste and Resources Action Programme WRAP reveals that supermarkets across the UK issued a total of 8bn ‘thin-gauge’ bags, a 5.4% increase on the 7.6bn given out in 2010.

Wales cut back most on the number of bags it uses, with a 22% fall, while England’s usage rose by 7.5% and Northern Ireland’s by 8.1%. There was no significant change in Scotland over the same period.

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. But compared with 2006, when the total was 12.2bn, there has been an overall decline of 35% in bag use.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) said last year’s total UK rise of 5.4% reflects changing shopping trends: “The on-going 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 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.

The BRC said that if the government is set on reducing bag use further, it will have to go beyond voluntary measures. A minimum 5p levy on carrier bags introduced in Wales last October led to the significant reduction there.

BRC’s Head of Environment Bob Gordon noted: “Let’s not forget, the number of carrier bags used in 2011 is still a third lower than in 2006. The majority of shoppers do their best to reuse bags and take as few new bags as possible. However, shopping trends are changing and it’s clear many customers appreciate the bags they’re offered.

“It’s no surprise that the use of a bag charge in Wales has reduced the number of bags taken by consumers there. If other governments see reducing the use of carrier bags as a priority, they will have to take a lead and go beyond voluntary measures. Any legislation should be as similar as possible to what’s in place in Wales and we are already working with other governments as they develop their plans.”

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