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Plastic bags still scourge of environmentalists in UK

August 2013

Plastic carrier bag use in Britain rose slightly last year despite environmental appeals to reduce the practice.

The overall number of bags issued to customers by the main supermarkets rose from 8.4bn in 2011 to 8.5bn, representing a 1.2% increase. However, the 2012 figure is 32% below the number for the 2006 baseline year. 

The statistics were compiled by the Water and Resources Action Programme, better known as Wrap, a publicly funded but independent non-profit company.

A significant fall in use was recorded in Wales, where a compulsory charge was introduced in October 2011. Charging brought about a 76% reduction and some retailers were able to eliminate plastic bag use altogether.

A compulsory charge was introduced in Northern Ireland in April this year and Scotland is due to follow suit in October next year. The UK government has been criticised for failing so far to extend the charging to England.

The increase in UK plastic bag use is due to changing consumer habits, explains the British Retail Consortium. It says more customers are now topping up between their larger weekly shopping trips, resulting in more visits overall.

Andrew Opie, the consortium’s food and sustainability director, said: “Bag usage may not have fallen, but that doesn’t mean that supermarkets’ progress has stalled on addressing this and wider environmental issues.”

In June Italy banned carrier bags made of non-biodegradable material. This follows reports that three years ago 72% of the waste washed up on Italy’s coasts consisted of plastic bags.

The EU is now considering legislation that could impose an EU-wide levy on plastic bags, a total ban, or measures to promote the use of biodegradable bags or limit their weight.

Another report from Wrap shows local authorities in England are recycling, composting or re-using 10.7mn tonnes of waste – more than they are sending to landfill. About 43% of the country’s household waste and 52% of business refuse are now being collected for recycling.

Altogether 98% of the 10.7mn tonnes collected is reported as being successfully recycled.

Wrap says the progress made is “due largely to the work done by local authorities, householders, the waste management sector and the UK’s reprocessing industry”.

WRAP | UK & NI Ireland | Consumer attitudes


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