WRAP publishes new figures on carrier bag use

plastic bags

Data published today (17 July) by the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) has revealed that the overall number of supermarket carrier bags (including reusable bags) issued by supermarkets in the UK in 2012 totalled 8.5 billion.

Issued by participating retailers including Asda, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Tesco, and Waitrose and gathered and analysed by WRAP (at the request of UK governments on an annual basis since 2006), the data shows an increase of 1.1 per cent in the number of bags used by supermarket customers between 2011 and 2012.

It further highlights that 8.1 billion of these bags used by UK supermarket customers in 2012 were thin-gauge (single-use) plastic, a two per cent increase per month compared to 2011.

However, the figures show a decrease of 34 per cent for single use bags compared with 2006 (12.2 billion) when reporting began, and an overall decrease of 36 per cent in the weight of carrier bags from the baseline year of 2006. In 2012, the total amount of carrier bags used weighed 70,400 tonnes, compared with 72,300 tonnes in 2011, which represents a 2.6 per cent decrease.

Increase in single-use bags

In 2012, retailers supplied information about front-of-store recycling of carrier bags. The results show that on average 60 per cent of stores had recycling facilities available.

Despite this, WRAP found that the UK’s single use bag has seen an increase of 1.3 per cent in 2012 compared with 2011. This includes a 2.4 per cent increase in virgin polymer used in all carrier bags during the same time period.

England sees largest increase

Of all the UK nations, England was found to have seen the largest increase in the amount of single-use carrier bags issued. According to the data, in 2012 there was a 4.4 per cent increase in the amount of single-use bags issued, coming in at 7.06 billion bags (up from 6.77 billion in 2011). Northern Ireland had the second largest increase (three per cent), followed by Scotland (1.1 per cent increase). Figures for Wales however, showed a dramatic decrease in the amount of single-use bags issued (76 per cent), most probably as a reaction to the country’s plastic bag levy (launched in 2011).

Indeed, England is now the only member of the UK to not have a plastic bag levy, despite around 56 per cent of people saying they were in favour of one.

Scotland announced that it will introduce a levy from October 2014. Northern Ireland has also recently announced that it will be seeking to double its carrier bag levy to 10 pence and extend it to other types of bags, in order to crack down on plastic bag use and litter.

Keep Britain Tidy, which aims to cut down on litter - including that of plastic bags, has tweeted saying it was: 'Disappointed but not surprised by the latest carrier bag use figures – [which saw a] massive fall in Wales but [are] still rising in England'.

Read more about the effect of plastic bag levies on usage.