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July 28, 2011

Bob Gordon, Head of
The number of carrier bags being used by shoppers remains dramatically lower than five years ago thanks to the combined efforts of retailers and their customers.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) has described the latest figures on carrier bag use, released today (Thursday) by the Government's waste body WRAP, as encouraging in the context of rising sales and changing shopping habits.

For the UK as a whole, 40 per cent fewer thin carrier bags were taken by customers in 2010 compared with 2006, when the statistics were first collected. A total of 37 per cent fewer bags of all types – including cotton, jute and ‘bags for life' – were handed out in 2010 than in 2006. Sales volumes rose by eight per cent over the same period.

A small increase in the number of bags given out in 2010 compared with a previous 12 month period, June 2009-May 2010 inclusive, should not be allowed to overshadow the major progress made by the sector, the BRC said. The average monthly usage of thin carrier bags has risen by just 0.4 of a bag per person over that time.

Importantly, the total weight of thin plastic bags used has almost halved since 2006 and the amount of new material being used is down 61 per cent as retailers use an increasing amount of recycled plastic in the manufacture of bags.

The BRC said this remains a significant achievement and an endorsement of the voluntary approach at a time when retailers have increased their focus on more important environmental issues.

British Retail Consortium Head of Environment, Bob Gordon, said: "It's encouraging to see the majority of consumers are continuing to reuse their carrier bags and are taking as few new bags as possible. We urge customers to keep that up, particularly when changing shopping habits, including more trips to stores, present a challenge to maintaining the progress made in recent years.

"These figures show retailers and customers are changing their habits without the need for compulsory bag bans or charges. In the face of sales growth it was inevitable that year-on-year reductions would be hard to maintain and the overall numbers remain the sort of result other environmental campaigns can only dream of.

"Retailers, working with consumers, will continue to do all they can to drive down the number of carrier bags being given out wherever possible but it's time to accept bags are not the be all and end all of environmental issues.

"Retailers are pursuing much more significant environmental issues such as energy use, waste and the impact of the products people buy. An obsession with carrier bags must not get in the way of these bigger green goals."

Notes to editors

WRAP is the Government's Waste and Resources Action Programme. All figures are available via their website,

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