Supermarkets and their customers have reduced the number of 'single-use' carrier bags being handed out for the fourth year in a row. Since independent monitoring began in 2006, the number handed out in the UK each year has been cut by 4.6 billion.
Over the same period the total weight of material used has more than halved.
With sales volumes having risen by more than 6% over the same period, this achievement is a endorsement of the voluntary approach, which rejects compulsory bag bans or taxes in favour of allowing retailers to use a range of methods that work best for their own customers.
Without any need for legislation, annual totals for use of 'single-use' bags have fallen every year since 2006. In the year to May 2010 43% fewer bags were handed out than in 2006. This shows that this is a genuine reduction and not simply a case of thin plastic bags being replaced by other types.
This revelation comes from a study carried out by the British Retail Consortium (BRC), whose participating members had their bag consumption independently monitored by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme).
BRC members had pledged to halve the number of 'single-use' bags between May 2006 and May 2009, which was all-but met last year. Using this snapshot analysis of a single month (May) each year, 455 fewer 'single-use' bags were issued in May 2010 compared with May 2006. This was achieved despite sales growth and customers focusing on the economy, rather than the environment.
Stephen Robertson, British Retail Consortium Director General, said: This is a tremendous achievement by supermarkets, customers and staff, especially as between 2006 and 2009 the amount of goods sold by participating retailers grew by over 6%. The sustained reduction shows that customers are permanently adopting the habit of re-using their bags.
"The continuous decrease in total annual bag use demonstrates the voluntary approach continues to make good progress through individual retailer initiatives that take customers with them.
"The reduction in bag use is great news, but it's the halving of the total weight of single-use carrier bags which shows retailers really scoring on the crucial issue of reducing environmental impact.
"Retailers are working hard on a range of other environmental measures, such as reducing food waste, reducing and redesigning packaging, as well as providing customers with recycling information through the on-pack recycling label."
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