Plastic bag use at supermarkets rises for fifth year

Plastic bags Image copyright Thinkstock

The number of single-use plastic bags handed out by UK supermarkets has increased for the fifth year, rising to 8.5 billion.

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs found the number was up by 200 million on 2013.

A reduction in the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers was found in Scotland and Northern Ireland, where levies have been introduced.

From October large shops in England will have to charge for plastic bags.

All retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees will have to charge a minimum of 5p for the bags they provide for shopping in stores and for deliveries.

Resource Minister Rory Stewart said that countries with the charge had seen a "dramatic fall" in the number of plastic bags taken from supermarkets.

He said a "significant reduction" in the number of plastic bags used could be expected in England after the introduction of a charge.

In England, the number of single-use bags from supermarkets rose from 7.4 billion in 2013 to just over 7.6 billion, the statistics from waste reduction body Wrap revealed.

In Northern Ireland the number of bags handed out fell by 42.6% following a previous drop of 71%, after a carrier bag charge was introduced in April 2013.

There was a 5.2% increase in Wales last year, but the number of bags handed out has fallen by 78.2% since 2010. A charge was introduced in October 2011.

In Scotland, which brought in a levy last year, there was an 18.3% decrease in the number of plastic bags handed out by retailers.

"The more bags we take, the more plastic makes its way into our environment, blighting our high streets, spoiling our enjoyment of the countryside and damaging our wildlife and marine environments," Mr Stewart said.

"Simple changes to our shopping routines, such as taking our own bags with us or using more bags for life, can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of plastic in circulation, meaning we can all enjoy a cleaner, healthier country."

In Scotland, the number of "bags for life" handed out quadrupled last year but in England they accounted for just one in 20 taken from major retailers.

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