Supermarkets miss plastic bag goal for a second time

The UK’s leading supermarkets have once again missed a voluntary goal to
halve the number of single use carrier bags handed out, despite cutting usage
since last year, new figures have shown.

The government-backed Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) confirmed
today that the total number of carrier bags issued by the UK’s leading
supermarkets has fallen 41 per cent since figures were first recorded in 2006.

Moreover, the number of "single-use" carrier bags issued has fallen 43 per
cent compared to 2006, representing a reduction of 4.6 billion single-use bags a

However, the figures suggest the supermarkets have for the second time fallen
short of a voluntary target agreed with the government in 2008 to cut the number
of single-use bags given to customers by 50 per cent by spring 2009 compared to
a 2006 baseline.

, supermarkets claimed to have "all but" hit the 50 per cent target,
citing figures for the month of May showing that they had reduced the number of
single use bags distributed by 48 per cent.

The performance drew plaudits from then Environment Secretary Hilary Benn who
hailed it as evidence that the government’s voluntary approach to cutting
plastic bag use was working.

But this year’s figures for May, which cover Asda, Cooperative Group, M&
S, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose, suggest that if anything the
supermarkets’ performance is worsening.

WRAP reported that they had reduced the number of single use carrier bags
given out by only 46 per cent compared to the 2006 base line, leaving them well
short of the 50 per cent target.

British Retail Consortium director insisted that the supermarkets had done a
good job, arguing that rising sales had made it harder for them to meet the

"This is a tremendous achievement by supermarkets, customers and staff,
especially as between 2006 and 2009 the amount of goods sold by participating
retailers grew by over six per cent,” he said. "The reduction in bag use is
great news, but it’s the halving of the total weight of single-use carrier bags
which shows retailers really scoring on the crucial issue of reducing
environmental impact."

However, the latest figures are likely to once again fuel calls for the
government to introduce legislation to curb plastic bag use.

Welsh Environment Minister Jane Davidson recently put forward plans to
introduce a seven pence charge on all paper and plastic single use carrier bags
by spring 2011. However, coalition ministers have signalled that they want to
retain the previous government’s voluntary apporoach to encouraging businesses
to reduce waste levels.

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