WRAP numbers back bag programs
By Jake Thomas, Resource Recycling
In the UK, industry and government are responding to a report that shows mixed results on efforts to reduce the use of plastic bags, while the mayor of England's largest city also looks into curtailing the totes.
Supermarket customers in the UK used a total of 6.4 billion single-use bags in 2010, according to the Waste and Resource Action Programme. The new figures released by the waste-reduction organization show that use of the bags has dropped 40 percent from the 10.7 billion that were handed out to grocery shoppers in 2006, the year WRAP began tracking the data. On average, according to figures from WRAP, consumers use 8.6 single-use bags per month in 2010, compared to 14.7 bags each month in 2006.
Additionally, WRAP found that there has been a 61 percent reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in carrier bags since 2006, which indicates that plastic bags now likely have more recycled content.
However, the numbers show that consumers used 5 percent more in 2010 than the previous year, when 6.1 billion bags were used.
Interestingly, the numbers show that plastic bag use has declined in Northern Ireland and Wales, where authorities have tacked on additional charges to the totes to inhibit their use, while consumers in England and Scotland, which do not have any mechanisms in place to discourage the proliferation of the sacks, are using more.
The British Retail Consortium described the findings as "as encouraging in the context of rising sales and changing shopping habits" and points to the overall decline of plastic bags as an example of consumers and grocers working together positively on the issue.
However, according to media accounts across the pond, Lord Henley, who heads the recycling functions of the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, is saying that the figures show that the private sector isn't doing enough to cut down on plastic bag use. He also said that he is looking into measures to reduce bag usage, including legislation.
London Mayor Boris Johnson is also putting plastics bags in his sights, reports the Daily Mail. Johnson, a Tory, complained to the paper about the liter and environmental impacts of the bags and wants to take steps to curb their use in anticipation of the 2012 Olympic Games that will be held in the city. However, London doesn't currently have the authority to enact such a ban or charge consumers for using them, which would require an act of Parliament to change.