BANBURY, ENGLAND (July 6, 12:30 p.m. ET) — The latest Waste & Resources Action Programme (Wrap) figures show that plastic bag use in England and Northern Ireland is up over last year.
According to the organization, 8 billion thin-gauge bags were issued in the United Kingdom in 2011, a 5 percent increase.
But when you drill down on those figures, you see a 22 percent drop in Wales, a 7.5 percent rise in England, an 8.1 percent rise in Northern Ireland and no significant change in Scotland over the period. Wales has a plastic bag tax.
The British Retail Consortium's head of environment, Bob Gordon, said waste from plastic bags is not significant.
“Plastic bags account for a fraction of 1 percent of household waste, and the amount of new plastic being used in today's bags is half what it was in 2006. They have a symbolic status but their impact on the environment is much smaller than other things which retailers are turning their firepower on,” he said.
Jo Swinson, a critic of packaging, said she was disappointed with the rise.
“It's a shame to see these figures. I understand the environmental argument [but] I had hoped the industry would have taken on board the need for fewer bags,” she said.
Swinson said the goal has to be “more reuse, regardless of the material used.”
“Let's not forget, the number of carrier bags used in 2011 is still a third lower than in 2006,” added Gordon. “The majority of shoppers do their best to reuse bags and take as few new bags as possible. However, shopping trends are changing and it's clear many customers appreciate the bags they're offered.”