In a major move to reduce waste and save the environment, the UK government has made major retailers voluntarily sign up to its latest plan to cut the use of plastic bags which they give customers by half next Easter in return for the government promising not to go ahead with enforcing bag charges.
Marks & Spencer, Sainsburys Supermarkets, Tesco, Wal-Mart Stores, Asda and Wm Morrison Supermarkets are among the big retailers who have signed up to cut by half the number of disposable plastic bags they hand out to consumers.
The move comes from 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, where all 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.
The agreement gives flexibility to allow individual retailers to respond to the agreement in ways that are best suited to their customers and type of trading, and recognises that a number of retailers are already addressing this issue through a variety of approaches.
The agreement covers carrier bags provided by retailers, both plastic and paper bags as around 13 billion bags are used by consumers in the UK each year and the 50 per cent voluntary cut will reduce the number of bags given to customers each year by more than six billion, which is enough to fill 60 olympic-sized swimming pools.
Retailers have already started rewarding re-use, promoting 'bags for life', using and developing alternative materials and trialling bigger bags that carry more shopping with Marks and Spencer charging 5 pence for each plastic bag taken by a customer for buying food and Tesco awards 'Green Clubcard Points' to customers who bring their own bags, which and these points can then be offset for goods purchased in the store.
Tesco said it had saved up to two billion bags since 'Green Clubcard Points' were launched in 2006 thereby reducing its off take of carrier bags by 40 per cent.
The movement to reduce plastic bags began in May 2007 when a retailer in southwestern England, stopped handing out plastic bags to customers as part of the government drive to cut waste and clean up the environment when documentary maker Rebecca Hosking showed locals a documentary filmed on seabirds who were choking on plastic waste in the ocean.
The Daily Mail then started the campaign with 'Banish the Bags', which changed public opinion thereby arming the government with powers in the Climate Change Act to charge customers for single-use carrier bags.
If the drive is successful, it will achieve the 25 per cent reduction target to 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.
Local environment minister Ben Bradshaw said "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," he added.