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Plastic bag use at supermarkets rises for fifth year

Published 24/07/2015

From October, large shops in England will be required to charge 5p for plastic bags
From October, large shops in England will be required to charge 5p for plastic bags

The number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets has increased for the fifth year, running to 8.5 billion, figures show.

The number is up by 200 million on 2013 despite the average household already having 40 plastic bags stashed away, research from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found.

In England, the number of single-use bags from supermarkets rose from 7.4 billion in 2013 to just over 7.6 billion, the statistics from waste reduction body Wrap revealed.

From October, large shops in England will be required to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags.

All retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees will have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries.

However it has prompted criticism because it will not include smaller retailers or paper bags.

Northern Ireland saw the number of bags handed out plummet once again by 42.6% following a previous drop of 71% after a carrier bag charge was introduced in April 2013.

Wales saw a 5.2% increase last year, but its use of carrier bags is a fraction of other parts of the UK following the introduction of a 5p charge in the country.

The number of bags handed out in Wales has fallen by 78.2% since 2010, the figures showed.

In Scotland, which brought in a levy last year, there was an 18.3% decrease in the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers.

Resource Minister Rory Stewart said: "We're all guilty of taking a carrier bag from a supermarket, storing it somewhere safe at home with the intention of using it again, then forgetting to take it with us next time we go to the shops.

"But the more bags we take, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside and damaging our wildlife and marine environments.

"Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation, meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country."

In Scotland, the number of 'bags for life' handed out quadrupled last year but in England they accounted for just one in 20 taken from major retailers.

Mr Stewart said: "Countries with the 5p charge have seen a dramatic fall in the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets and we can expect a significant reduction in England, possibly by as much as 80% in supermarkets and 50% on the high street.

"The charge will also boost our growing economy by delivering savings of £60 million in litter clean-up costs and £13 million in carbon savings."

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