There was a 7.5% increase in bag consumption in England to 6.8 bn units, equivalent to a per capita use of 10.8 bags a month. In contrast, Wales, which introduced a 5p surcharge for single-use bags in October 2011 – see Plasteurope.com of 18.03.2011 – saw bag use decline by 22% to a per capita consumption of 7.6 bags a month. Individual use was significantly higher at 11.9 bags a month in Scotland, which is considering introducing a levy – see Plasteurope.com of 03.07.2012. Overall usage in Scotland declined by 0.3%, but Northern Ireland, which is introducing a 5p tax in April 2013 – see Plasteurope.com of 07.02.2012 – saw an 8.1% increase.
The WRAP research shows that there has been a 51% reduction in the quantity of virgin polymer used in the manufacture of all carrier bags (including reusable bags-for-life) since 2006. Between 2010 and 2011, however, there was an 11% increase. Even taking this into account, the overall downward trend in the number of bags being used suggests that more recycled materials come into play in bag manufacture than in 2006.
Commenting on these latest carrier bag statistics, the British Retail Consortium (BRC, London / UK; www.brc.org.uk) says the “small increase” in UK bag consumption from supermarkets reflects changing spending habits. Families are increasingly doing several smaller grocery shops during a week as opposed to relying on one big trip. In addition, BRC says, a rising number of people have switched from travelling by car to public transport. For both of these reasons, consumers are less likely to have reusable bags with them and, therefore, make greater use of giveaway bags.
Bob Gordon, BRC's head of environment, says that most shoppers do their best to reuse bags, but adds: “Shopping trends are changing and it’s clear many customers appreciate the bags they’re offered.” Defending the role of single-use carriers, Gordon points out that they account for only a fraction of 1% of household waste, and their impact on the environment is much smaller than that of many everyday products. If reducing their usage is a priority for legislators, however, Gordon believes that voluntary measures are insufficient and a levy, as in Wales, will be necessary.