28 February 2007, 13:00 PM
  • UK retailers have agreed to reduce the overall environmental impact of their carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008.

The move comes in a joint initiative involving representatives from all areas of the retail sector and in response to a concerted call for action from environment ministers in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They have agreed to support the campaign together with the British Retail Consortium (BRC) and WRAP (the Waste and Resources Action Programme), which manages waste prevention programmes for the four governments.

Individual retailers can respond to the agreement in ways that are best suited to their customers and type of trading. Retailers will be reducing the environmental impact of bags by encouraging customers to reduce significantly the number of carrier bags they use; reducing the impact of each carrier bag (e.g. by using less material or incorporating recycled content); and enabling the recycling of more carrier bags where appropriate. There will also be further work to encourage carrier bag re-use.

Local environment minister, Ben Bradshaw, comments, “This is an ambitious but very practical agreement and we are pleased that the retailers have agreed to work with us and UK consumers in such a positive way.

“Consumers are increasingly aware that they can make positive choices to help the environment in the way they shop. By signing up to this statement, the UK’s retailers have also committed to help their customers to reduce, reuse and recycle their carrier bags.”

If achieved, the 25% reduction target could reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 58,500 tonnes a year - equivalent to taking 18,000 cars off the road for a year. It is another example of the simple practical measures that can be taken to help tackle climate change.

Nigel Smith, British Retail Consortium director of environmental Policy, said, “Retailers are already rewarding re-use, promoting ‘bags for life’, using and developing alternative materials and trialling bigger bags that carry more shopping. They want to take that further.

“Twenty-five per cent is an ambitious target for the industry as a whole. It will require the Government’s support in encouraging customers to reduce, re- use, recycle and take an improved approach to household waste management.”

Each signatory is now working with WRAP to identify a baseline figure against which the reduction in environmental impact can be measured and reported. Progress will be monitored jointly by the retailer signatories, government and WRAP and a review will be completed before the end of 2008 to see what would be required to make further reductions by 2010.

WRAP director, Phillip Ward, explained, “This initiative builds on WRAP’s broader work with the retail sector to reduce packaging waste. Where there is genuine commitment, flexible voluntary arrangements like this can be successful in bringing change.”