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British Shoppers Must Learn to Bring Their Own Bags

LONDON, UK, December 29, 2008 (ENS) – By next spring, some of Britain’s largest supermarket chains will halve the number of plastic and paper bags they supply to customers as compared with a 2006 baseline under an agreement reached last week between the government and the retailers.

The 50 percent cut was set by British Environment Minister Jane Kennedy and the British Retail Consortium. The agreement covers seven of Britain’s major supermarket chains – Asda, the CO-OP, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco, and Waitrose.


Plastic carrier bags are on their way
out. (Photo by Evissa)

The agreement to reduce the volume of carrier bags by 50 percent against 2006 levels, covers England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The Scottish Executive has a similar agreement with retailers in Scotland.

In 2006, around 13 billion bags were used by consumers in the UK. The number of bags saved by spring 2009 through this agreement would fill 60 Olympic-sized swimming pools, environment officials calculate.

Environment Minister Kennedy said, “This is a bold commitment which will result in around five billion fewer bags being handed out. Supermarkets have already taken some imaginative steps to help us use fewer carrier bags and other high street retailers should look to them for inspiration. Of course, we can all play our part to reduce the number of carrier bags on our high streets and the government will work closely with the BRC on a campaign to help us all to do so.”

BRC Director General Stephen Robertson said, “Together with other environmental initiatives, supermarkets are meeting their existing commitment to reduce the environmental impact of bags by 25 percent. They’re now volunteering an ambitious new target to help customers halve bag use by next spring.”

“Supermarkets have been so successful in this by taking customers with them in ways they find acceptable, by encouraging and rewarding,” Robertson said.

“This new partnership with the government, underpinned by action across the retail sector, offers exciting new opportunities to help our customers across the UK to do the right thing,” he said. “It’s one more step towards reducing waste and environmental impact.”


Cloth bags are gaining acceptance.
(Photo courtesy Tesco)

Liz Goodwin, CEO of the government-funded not-for-profit Waste & Resources Action Programme, said, “The word from stores is that many more of us are re-using our bags. That is something we are working to encourage and WRAP will be playing its full part in this initiative.”

Progress on the agreement will be monitored by WRAP and will be reviewed in the summer of 2010.

“This agreement should act as a spur to all of us to remember to take our bags with us when shopping,” said Goodwin. “Retailers and governments are now clearly working together to help all of us reduce the number of bags we use. The aim, which is at the core of WRAP’s work, is a world which uses resources more efficiently.”

The agreement states that even fewer carrier bags will be given out in the future, saying, “The governments and the BRC share an aspiration to go further towards a reduction of 70 percent over the longer term and, supported by leading retailers, commit to joint efforts on consumer engagement as crucial to making this a reality.”

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