Retailers will sort the plastic bag issue

Stephen Robertson Director-general, British Retail Consortium

Sir; Last year, retailers made a bold commitment to voluntarily reduce the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008. The provisional findings from government-funded waste body Wrap show retailers are more than half way to meeting these commitments. This confounds critics who say bans or taxes are the only way. Good progress has been made - retailers gave out a billion fewer bags compared with this time last year and have already reduced the environmental impact of plastic bags by 14%. Retailers know their customers best. Each is investing in schemes that it believes best responds to the needs of its own customers to encourage them to make greener choices. These include rewarding the re-use of bags, promoting bags for life and reducing the use of virgin plastic in bags ('No more free bags at M&S'. The Grocer, 1 March, p11). Retailers have given themselves until the end of this year to meet their commitments. It would be sensible to wait till then to review these results before rushing into ill-considered changes. In the meantime, they should be allowed to continue to achieve results in ways that will work best with their own customers. Retailers recognise they have environmental responsibilities and take them very seriously. What they are calling for is considered policy based on clear evidence and good science. In seemingly tearing up the agreement with retailers on their environmental impact, is the government call for 'compulsion' merely a populist reaction?