UK is nation of plastic fantastic lovers as carrier bag waste rises

Stat of the day: Eight billion. The number of plastic bags used by supermarket customers in 2011, up 5.4% on 2010.

by Rebecca Burn-Callander
Last Updated: 09 Oct 2013

Britain might be doing passably well in the Olympics, but when it coms to reusing our plastic bags, we're bottom of the pile. According to figures from waste reduction body Wrap, UK supermarket customers used a staggering eight billion carrier bags in 2011, up from 7.6 billion in 2010. That means each person takes home an average of almost 11 a month.

England is the last remaining part of the UK to have no plans for a plastic bag charge, and the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), Keep Britain Tidy, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) and Surfers Against Sewage are calling for one to be brought in. This is the only way to prevent the figures from rising further, they posit. And, with businesses in the UK issuing plastic bags at a rate of 254 a second, there's no denying we have a problem.

But this should not be a money-spinner for government, they warn. The money should go direct to the charities that have to clean up our seas, beaches, and help wildlife that swallow the things. After all, most plastic takes an estimated 450 to 1,000 years to degrade at sea, with some never breaking down at all.

But is change gonna come, as Sam Cooke would say? Well, while retailers including Lidl and M&S have introduced charges for plastic bags, most of the major supermarkets have yet to follow suit. Without real pressure from government, they are unlikely to risk alienating customers by adding to the cost of their weekly shop.

And that pressure is a long way off. While PM David Cameron has voiced his concerns: 'Retailers need to do better. I want to see significant falls again. I know that retailers want to do better too but if they don’t I will be asking them to explain why not,' it sounds more like hot air, than cast-iron - or should that be plastic - action...

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