Back in February Gordon Brown threatened supermarkets that unless they took action to reduce the amount of carrier bags given away, currently 1 billion bags every year of which many are shipped off to landfill after a single use, the government would pass legislation forcing supermarkets to act.
The threat paid off, as carrier bag usage has been reduced by 48% across the UK in May 2009 compared to the amount of bags used in May 2006, meaning a reduction of 420 million fewer carrier bags in total. However with a target of 50% set by British Retail Consortium members, the Welsh Assembly, Scottish Parliament, Northern Ireland Department of the Environment and Defra in 2008, this is still 2% short of their original aim.
In addition, as the scheme was run by the BRC, figures would only represent Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, M&S, Co-Operative, Somerfield, Tesco and Asda. Fellow supermarket Morrisons and other retailers across the UK are not included in the calculations. Jane Davidson, the Welsh environment minister said,
“These figures demonstrate that the voluntary approach will only achieve so much. I want to look at how we can further reduce the amount of single-use bags people use and encourage them to re-use bags.”
Some people have suggested that the best ways of achieving further reductions in carrier bag consumption would be to follow examples set by other countries. The levy imposed in Ireland resulted in a 90% reduction in carrier bag usage as people preferred to reuse old bags or carry a bag for life rather than pay the tax, and with money raised by the levy, currently set at 22 cents going towards environmental projects this system seems to be a win-win situation.
Other suggestions are to follow the lead set by France and ban free plastic bags altogether, therefore ending the argument of paying for a bag and leaving consumers to either take a reusable bag or be prepared to carry the item home without.