Plastic carrier bags

Carrier bag usage has gone up in England by 4.4%, Wrap has revealed

Pressure for the government to introduce charges for carrier bags is set to grow following figures showing use is on the rise in England but plummeting in Wales, where charges have been introduced.

Data published today by Wrap shows 8.1 billion single-use bags were used by supermarket customers in the UK in 2012, an overall increase of 1.3% compared to the previous year.

In England carrier-bag usage was up 4.4% while in Wales it was down 76%, in the first full year since charging began there.

Northern Ireland has since followed suit in charging for bags, although today’s figures pre-date the change and show a 3% rise in the country.

Last month the Scottish Government announced retailers would charge a minimum of 5p per bag from October 2014, despite retail leaders warning that carrier bags rank low down on the list of environmental issues faced by the industry.

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Bag use grew by 1.1% in Scotland last year, Wrap said.

There has been a 51% reduction in the amount of polymer used in carrier bag manufacture, Wrap said, suggesting that more recycled materials are being used to make them.

British Retail Consortium director of food and sustainability Andrew Opie admitted today’s figures were likely to see the government come under more pressure to introduce charging in England, but urged ministers to consider the bigger environmental picture.

“Bag usage may not have fallen,” he said, “but that doesn’t mean that supermarkets’ progress has stalled on addressing this and wider environmental issues. 

“Consumer habits are evolving rapidly, but the sector is still working hard to keep pace whilst helping customers to reduce their environmental impact. The majority of shoppers do their best to reuse bags and take as few new bags as possible, and the rapid rollout of store recycling points and green incentives online is making this good practice easier and more widespread.

“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.”