Plastic bag usage falls... but don’t get carried away
The message about plastic bags appears to be sinking in — the number of single-use plastic bags handed out in Northern Ireland has dropped by 19 million in a single year.
That means there was a 9% fall in single-use bags handed out in 2009/10 compared to the previous year, according to the results of the 2010 UK Voluntary Carrier Bag Agreement with the British Retail Consortium.
Environment Minister Edwin Poots welcomed the news — but warned against complacency and urged everyone to cut the number of bags they use.
The minister said he is not yet considering a mandatory levy, saying: “I remain of the view that it is preferable to bring about sustained consumer behavioural change without imposing a charge.”
The drop was achieved against a sales volume growth period here of more than three times the UK average in recent years.
“I am encouraged that the major supermarket retailers and their customers continue to reduce single-use carrier bag consumption,” Mr Poots said.
“As a result of their actions there are 19 million fewer single-use carrier bags in circulation in Northern Ireland than there were last year. That is 19 million fewer bags that could potentially end up in landfill.
“Taking reusable bags shopping is a very simple yet effective way for everyone to play their part in helping to prevent waste.
“I encourage everyone to lose a bad habit and instead ‘get a bag habit’ by reusing plastic bags or switching to other reusable bags.
“For further information and advice on waste prevention and how to ‘Get a bag habit’, log on to Rethink Waste at http://rethinkwasteni.org.”
The figures contrasted with a spot-check carried out in the same survey by WRAP (Waste and Resources Action Programme) which revealed an increase in the number and volume of plastic bags used across the UK except Wales between May 2009 and May 2010.
The DoE said the annual trend figures provide a more complete picture and the anomalous result could be due to higher sales volume growth or an unknown seasonal factor affecting the reporting period. However, the spot-check suggests 8.1 bags were used per person here in May 2010.
The survey looks at the number of bags handed out by the seven major supermarket chains that have signed up to the UK Voluntary Carrier Bag Agreement — Asda, Co-op, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Waitrose.
In Northern Ireland 189 million single-use bags were handed out in 2009/10 compared to 208 million bags in 2008/9.