The number of single use plastic carrier bags dished out by UK supermarkets has risen for the fourth year running, according to the latest figures from Wrap.

Wrap said that the number of single use bags being handed out had actually decreased by 32% since it started monitoring the situation in 2006, but the 8.3 billion bags handed out in 2013 represented a 3.2% increase on the previous year.

The overall number of bags (including re-usable bags) issued in supermarkets in 2013 totalling 8.8 billion compared to 8.5 billion in 2012 and 12.4 billion in 2006.

Work to reduce the thickness of plastic bags has resulted in significant reductions to the total weight of the bags being given away.

In 2013, total carrier bags weighed 67,300 tonnes compared with 70,400 tonnes in 2012 and 39% less than the weight of bags issued in 2006.

In April 2013, Northern Ireland followed Wales in charging for single use carrier bags, meaning that the data represents three months when bags were free in that part of the UK and nine months when charges were in place.

Plans are currently in place to bring in charges for bags in both Scotland and England, however the BRC today warned that the English proposal, due to come into force next year, was an unnecessarily complex system.

“The reductions in Wales and Northern Ireland indicate that legislation can trigger significant reductions in carrier bag use. However, the proposed regulations in England are unnecessarily complex and offer too many exemptions. As drafted they will not deliver the same environmental impact as the rest of the UK and we need the government to accept that the best way is a simple scheme which is consistent and easily understood by everyone,” said BRC environment policy adviser Alice Ellison.

“Bag usage may not have fallen, but that doesn’t mean that supermarkets’ progress has stalled on addressing this and wider environmental issues.  Supermarkets’ environmental work extends well beyond carrier bags to wider and more important green goals including reducing packaging, domestic food waste and waste to landfill.  Retailers have beaten a range of challenging government targets in these areas, delivering real environmental benefits as well as value for customers.”