Carrier bag waste

Bag posterCarrier bags may only be a small proportion of the waste we produce – but they are a powerful symbol of our throwaway society.

Around 10 billion bags were given away in this country in 2008 - that's 400 per household a year – enough to fill nearly 200 Olympic sized swimming pools.

Tips for remembering to re-use carrier bags include:

  • keeping bags the car boot of the car;
  • keeping them in handbags;
  • having a bag caddy by the door; and,
  • hanging them on the back door.

See also: The simple tricks to reducing carrier bag wastage (Link to Directgov website)

Reducing the number of bags we use not only helps reduce litter and landfill, but also helps lower the carbon emissions produced during their manufacture and the amount of raw materials we as a society use.

What you can do

As individuals, we can all help to reduce the number of bags distributed by reusing carrier bags and using longer-lasting reusable shopping bags – "bags for life". All you need to do is remember to take these with you when you go shopping, and already you’ll be helping.

Posters for retailers

These posters have been designed for retailers to add their own message at the bottom to communicate a “reminder” message to the public. You can also add your own logo if you wish to.

The posters have been produced by WRAP, Defra, The Association of Convenience Stores and the British Retail Consortium.

What the Government is doing

In December 2008 seven of Britain's leading supermarkets - represented by the British Retail Consortium (BRC) - signed up to a voluntary agreement with the Government to cut the number of carrier bags distributed by the end of May 2009 by 50% (against 2006 levels). This agreement targets all single-use carrier bags provided by the supermarkets involved - the types of bags typically given away free at the checkout.

WRAP (the Waste & Resources Action Programme) - who have been monitoring the agreement - reported on 16 July that retailers achieved a reduction of 48% across the UK.

  • In May 2009, 452 million single-use bags were distributed by participating retailers in the UK compared to 870 million 'single-use' bags in May 2006.
  • In England alone, in May 2006, participating retailers distributed 718 million single-use bags. This was down almost half to 372 million in May 2009 - a reduction of 346 million.

These results, whilst just below the target are a testament to what can be achieved by working together, and are similar to what we estimate could be achieved by charging for bags.

It is estimated that the 50% reduction - meaning around 5 billion less bags per year across Britain, and a saving of 130,000 tonnes of CO2 equivalent (comparable to taking 41,000 cars off the road each year) - will be achieved by the end of summer 2009, if not before.

The government does wish for further reductions to be made, and shares an aspiration with the BRC and participating retailers for a 70% reduction over the longer term. A full review of progress will be made in Summer 2010. Until then, retailers will continue to work with their customers to reduce the numbers of bags distributed, and WRAP will continue to monitor progress.

Whilst there are no plans to make charging for bags mandatory ahead of the Summer 2010 review, no options have been ruled out over the longer term.


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Page last modified: 10 March 2010
Page published: 15 March 2006