Retailers defend plastic bag record

Supermarkets have defended their efforts to reduce carrier bag use after being slammed by the Government for a 5% rise in plastic bags used at checkouts in the past year.

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The figures, released by WRAP reveal that 6.4 billion single-use bags were used by supermarket customers in the UK in 2010.

Lord Henley, the Government’s Recycling Minister, says retailers must “lift their game” and cut the number of bags given out or face legislation.

The British Retail Consortium, which represents the major supermarkets, says that a small increase in the number of bags given out by retailers in 2010 should not overshadow “major progress” made by the sector.

It claims that across the UK 40% fewer plastic bags were used in 2010 compared to 2006.

Marks & Spencer, which already charges customers 5p per plastic bag in stores, stands by its efforts and maintains that it is still seeing an 80% reduction in carrier bag use compared to before it started charging.

The retailer claims 94 million plastic bags were given out at its checkouts in 2010. In 2006 the number was 464 million.

M&S recently relaunched its carrier bag reduction campaign as part of its Forever Fish initiative and donates profits from the sales of bags to charities including WWF and education and conservation projects.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s both encourage consumers to reuse carrier bags through loyalty points.

Sainsbury’s also claims to have minimised the environmental impact of its single use bags by reducing their size and weight and increasing their recycled content to 50%.

British Retail Consortium head of environment, Bob Gordon, says: “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.”

He warns that an obsession with plastic bag reduction must not get in the way of bigger green goals as retailers address more significant environmental issues such as energy use and waste.

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