British consumers are packing away their green credentials along with their weekly shop, as last year an increasing number bundled purchases into single-use plastic carrier bags instead of seeking out environmentally friendly alternatives.
Plastic bag use plunged after 2006, when the UK government, retailers and green campaigners spearheaded a push to cut down on the 11 billion plastic carriers Britons used each year, most of which find their way into landfill or — much more damagingly — into waterways and the sea, where they are a hazard to marine life.
By 2009, bag use was down by about 40 percent to under 6.5 billion.
However, last year that downward trend was reversed. Perhaps owing to recessionary worries, people forgot their hessian sacks and filled up on plastic again — more than 6.8 billion were used, up about 5 percent on the previous year, according to the British government’s Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP).
“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,” said Lord Henley, the recycling minister.
The British Retail Consortium said part of the increase was likely due to shoppers making more short trips to stores, rather than a single big weekly shop.
However, the retail trade body said the small increase should be put in context of the “massive” progress made since 2006, and said plastic bags were only one of the many ways in which retailers were cutting their environmental impact.
Plastic bag data is difficult to compare over the past five years, because of changes in the way the statistics are collected. Between 2008 and 2009, the data was collated on a mid-year basis, from June to May, but from last year, WRAP decided to return to presenting it on a calendar year basis.
In 2006, nearly 11 billion single-use carriers were used across the UK, but after campaigning, this fell to 10 billion the following year and the figure was down to just over 7 billion by 2008 to 2009 before bottoming out at under 6.5 billion by 2009 to last year.
However, for the full 12 months of last year, bag use rose again to 6.8 billion.