UK supermarkets halve plastic bag use in just two and a half years

Posted by James Ferre on 17th July 2009

Leading British supermarkets and their customers have effectively halved the number of carrier bags handed out since 2006.

Having achieved a cut in bag numbers of 26 per cent by the end of 2008 (compared with 2006 figures), supermarket customers have made incredible progress and extended this to a 48 per cent reduction in England in just a further five months. Comparing May 2006 to May 2009, 346 million fewer bags were used by customers in that one month alone.

Plastic Bag

The new figures, announced today by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) have been compiled from the seven participating retailers by WRAP (Waste & Resources Action Programme).

At the end of 2008, seven BRC supermarket members voluntarily pledged to reduce the number of single-use carrier bags used by customers by 50 per cent by the end of May 2009, compared with May 2006.

The dramatic reduction has been achieved by retailers using specific schemes they feel work best for their customers – backed by a consumer campaign funded by the government. While it has been a challenging exercise – involving staff training and customer communication – retailers and the Government have helped to change consumer behaviour by taking customers with them, according to the BRC.

“This is a spectacular achievement – especially as between 2006 and 2008 the seven participating supermarkets grew sales volumes by five per cent,” BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said. “Changing customer habits on this scale, this quickly, isn’t easy. But it’s a huge testament to customers, who’ve switched to bags for life and cut bag usage. Hard working retail staff also deserve credit, as do our supermarket members – who’ve spent the money during these tough times to help this happen.”

“These figures send a clear message: the voluntary approach is very successful and can lead to better informed customers and lasting change.”

“Reducing the number of carrier bags handed out is only one of retailers’ many green commitments. For example, supermarkets are working hard to reduce food waste – a bigger polluter than carrier bags,” Mr Robertson added. “They’re also promoting recycling, discounting energy efficient products and cutting their own energy use.”