Tesco reports 78 per cent drop in carrier bag use

English carrier bag charge beginsThe number of single-use carrier bags being used at Tesco stores in England has fallen by 78 per cent since the introduction of the five pence bag charge on 5 October, the retailer reports - a figure 10 per cent higher than predicted by the supermarket.

The retailer has also noted that online shoppers are more frequently choosing to ‘go bagless’, with a 50 per cent increase in carrier bag free deliveries to shoppers at

This is in line with the 80 per cent reduction hoped for by Resources Minister Rory Stewart prior to the implementation of the scheme. 7.6 billion carrier bags were provided by supermarkets in England in 2014 according to the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP), 200 million more than the number used in 2013.

Drop in bags entering recycling plants

A big reduction has also been noted by J&B Recycling, which reports that the amount of carrier bags coming through its sorting plants has dropped by 50 per cent.

This, it says, is due to people being ‘more conscious’ of their bag usage since the introduction of the carrier bag tax.

The company, which recycles approximately 120,000 tonnes of waste each year from household, industrial, construction and commercial sources, has noticed an immediate drop in the amount of plastic bags being recycled, with 10-12 tonnes being recycled per week relative to the 25 tonnes per week prior to the implementation of the charge.

Carrier bags baled for recycling
Mark Penny, Commercial Manager at J&B, says that fewer bags of contaminated recycling are passing through the company’s facility’s since October. He explained: “People would collect their kerbside recyclables in carrier bags or just put carrier bags themselves in the bins to be collected.

“Some full bags however often contained contaminated recyclables or waste whether it be accidental or indeed in some cases deliberate, especially food and bathroom waste. We would then have to sort that carrier bag from the rest of the material or waste and recycle it accordingly.

“What we are finding now is that less people are putting their recycling in carrier bags or throwing them away and there is now more loose unbagged recyclables instead making it easier and safer for us to sort.”

‘Huge impact’

Rebecca Shelley, Group Communications Director for Tesco, said: “We knew the government’s bag charge would encourage our customers to use fewer plastic bags and it’s clearly had a huge impact.

“We wanted to do as much as we could to help our customers avoid paying the charge – the week before the charge was introduced we gave out free bags for life, and we’ve been sharing helpful hints and tips on how customers can cut down the number of bags they use.

Environment Minister Rory Stewart said: “I’m really delighted that the five pence plastic bag charge is starting to have a real impact and is raising thousands for good causes.”

“Cutting the number of plastic bags we use is a small but vital step in reducing plastic waste. It will not only tidy up our towns and countryside, it will also help protect our precious beaches and sea life.”

Fund donation

Retailers are encouraged to donate the proceeds of the five pence charge, after administration costs are deducted, to good causes. Tesco has also provided an update on its donation.

The supermarket is offering grants in the range of £8,000 to £12,000 from the carrier bag fund to projects that will ‘make lasting improvements to green spaces in communities across the UK’. 

This scheme is in collaboration with Groundwork, a charity committed to finding practical solutions to environmental challenges with local impact.

The deadline for applications to this fund, which Tesco have been receiving for the last six weeks, has now been extended to tomorrow (11 December) to give charities and community groups more time to submit their ideas.

The grant eligibility criteria have also been extended and now include projects on school grounds and community spaces on housing estates or residential areas. This includes spaces such as gated areas, spaces in the grounds of hospices or day centres and allotments.

English carrier bag charge

The charge was introduced in England on 5 October this year, becoming the final country in the UK to implement a financial measure to reduce the use of single-use carrier bags. The scheme follows on from the success of similar schemes in Wales in 2011, Northern Ireland in 2013 and Scotland in 2014, which resulted in huge reductions in the amount of carrier bags used.

Carrier bag charges, introduced by the government in October, were designed to reduce plastic waste from supermarkets and encourage the reuse of old bags.

These measures were implemented for retailers employing over 250 people and carrier bags less than 70 microns (0.7mm) thick affecting most major supermarkets and high street chains.

More information on the bag charge in England can be found in Resource’s story from its launch. Details on the Tesco Community Scheme, administered by Groundwork can be found at the charity’s website.