The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) has criticised retailers for failing to reduce the number of carrier bags issued and threatened legislation if numbers weren't cut
Figures released yesterday (28 July) by WRAP, showed an increase in single-use carrier bags given out by retailers,Lord Henley, minister for recycling, responded by saying: "This isn't good enough. Retailers need to take responsibility and lift their game to cut down on the number of single use carrier bags they hand out. If results do not improve we will consider additional measures to make this happen, including legislation."
The threat comes after Defra decided to delay further action on single-use carrier bags for two years, in response to earlier successful carrier bag figures under the voluntary producer responsibility approach.
The Department is also seen as being under pressure on the issue because of action being taken on carrier bags in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales, with the latter introducing a levy on bags this autumn.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC), however, pointed out that 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 BRC described the latest figures on carrier bag use as encouraging in the context of rising sales and changing shopping habits.
For the UK as a whole, 40 percent fewer thin carrier bags were taken by customers in 2010 compared with 2006, when the statistics were first collected. A total of 37 percent 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 percent 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.