Resource Use

Carrier bag use rises in UK

Carrier bag use rises in the UKUse of single-use carrier bags in UK supermarkets rose by 2.3 per cent in 2014, according to figures released by the Waste & Resource Action Programme (WRAP) today (24 July), but seven major grocery retailers in Scotland have reported a 66.6 per cent reduction.

The WRAP data shows that 8.5 billion thin-gauge single-use bags were used by customers of supermarkets in 2014. Though this is an increase on the 2013 figure, which was 8.3 billion, it represents a 30 per cent decrease compared to 2006 (12.2 billion) when reporting began.

On average, UK residents use 11.0 thin gauge bags a month. Those in England and Scotland are the greatest consumers, according to the WRAP data, using 11.7 and 10.3 respectively, while Wales (2.1) and Northern Ireland (1.6) have decreased their average usage greatly since introducing carrier bag charges.

Northern Ireland introduced its charge in early 2013, dropping its average thin-gauge bag per capita from 8.8 in 2012 to 2.6 and now 1.6.

A five-pence charge for single-use bags was also implemented in Wales in 2011. In the year following its introduction, per capita use fell from 7.4 to 1.7, though it has since experienced a slight resurgence.

Scottish bag use falling rapidly

Scotland has also now had a bag charge for almost a year, and retailers are reporting a huge difference.

The ‘Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014’ came into effect on 20 October 2014 and saw all high street stores, corner shops and online retailers introduce a charge of at least five pence for single-use plastic, paper and biodegradable bags.

Figures released by the Scottish Government today state that bag usage reported by the major Scottish retailers (Asda, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose) dropped from 193.5 million in the fourth quarter of 2013 to 64.6 million in the same period of 2014, a reduction of 66.6 per cent. The charge on single-use carrier bags was only in place for the last 11 weeks of the year, and is being credited as the main driver in the significant drop in use seen in that quarter.

As part of the charge’s introduction, more than 60 retailers have signed up to Scotland’s Carrier Bag Commitment, a voluntary agreement operated by Zero Waste Scotland, to donate the net proceeds of the charge to good causes. More than £2 million has already been raised for community services and charities across Scotland.

England will also begin charging for some carrier bags in October of this year, though the scheme has been labelled as a ‘complete mess’ by some quarters, after government revealed that the charge would not include reusable ‘bags for life’, biodegradable bags, or paper bags, nor would the levy apply to organisations with fewer than 250 employees.

Charge is ‘driving behaviour change’

Scottish Environment Secretary Richard Lochhead said: “These astounding figures – a reduction of 147 million – are yet another indication that the single-use carrier bag charge has been a tremendous success, driving behaviour change to reduce litter across our beautiful country and also the amount of resources we, as a nation, consume.

“Litter is a blight on our environment and I’m delighted with the reports we’ve received from these retailers. I’m pleased that so many consumers are now in the habit of reusing bags and the level of support from the Scottish public is extremely heartening.

“These figures also demonstrate how small changes can make a big difference, and as Scotland moves towards a more circular economy, I hope that it inspires people to think about what other actions they can take to reduce the amount of resources that they throw away.”

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, added: “In the months since the Carrier Bag Charge was introduced, we’ve seen a tremendous change in Scots shoppers’ habits, with many more people now bringing reuseable bags.

“I congratulate people for the drop in single-use bags in circulation, as these single-use items usually quickly end up either as litter or landfill. Retailers have also embraced the charge, and I would encourage those who’ve not yet done so to sign up to our Carrier Bag commitment, to enable clear reporting and donation to good causes.”

Wildlife to feel benefits of Scottish bag charge

Commenting on the news, WWF Scotland Director Lang Banks said: “It’s fantastic to learn that carrier bag usage in Scotland has dropped so spectacularly since the 5p charge was introduced. 

“As well as removing millions of bags from circulation, it’s also great that over two million pounds has been raised for good causes across the country.

 “Before the charge Scotland consumed a staggering 800 million carrier bags every year, many of which ended up polluting our environment and threatening wildlife. The clear success of this initiative should encourage ministers to press on with other bold ideas to help make Scotland a zero-waste nation.”

Find out more about the Scottish Carrier Bag Charge.

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