NEWS: Bag-for-life 'should cost more'

There's calls to increase the charge for plastic 'bags for life' as figures reveal households still buy an average of 54 of them each year.

Greenpeace want an increase in the cost of the bags from 10p to 70p to reduce the numbers of shoppers buying them. This morning they released their 'second annual study of plastic use by UK supermarkets' alongside campaigning charity the Environmental Investigation Agency.

Researchers say Waitrose and Morrisons performed best in reducing their overall plastic footprint while Lidl, Asda and Aldi were the three worst performers.

The latest findings show the amount of supermarket own-brand plastic packaging classed as widely recycled has fallen. Yesterday we revealed an overall increase in plastic use by UK supermarkets from 886,000 tonnes in 2017 to 903,000 last year.

The report which can be read here reveals:

  • Total plastic packaging used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has risen from an estimated 886,000 tonnes in 2017 to 903,000 tonnes in 2018. This increase was driven by sales of branded products; plastic packaging associated with these items increased by nearly 20,000 tonnes.

  • Companies at the top of the 2019 league table, Waitrose and Morrisons, performed best in reducing their overall plastic footprint and making commitments to scale-up packaging free and reuse solutions. Those at the bottom have achieved the least tangible progress over the past 12 months. As with last year, there remains scope for considerable progress even among the top performers.

  • A growing number of companies are trialling reusable and refillable ranges. These initiatives need scaling up nationwide and across a full range of product lines if they are to significantly reduce throwaway packaging in the UK.

  • Soaring sales of so-called ‘bags for life’ demonstrate that these are now used by many customers as a single-use option. In 2018, eight companies reported they were using 960 million bags for life; in 2019, the same eight companies reported 1.24 billion, with an additional 271 million sold by two further supermarkets. Tesco’s annual sales represent almost 11 bags for life for every person in the UK, while Iceland increased sales nearly tenfold from 2017-18.

  • Despite recyclability being the main focus of industry efforts, the percentage of own-brand plastic packaging classed as ‘widely recycled’ has dropped from 64.7% in 2017 to 63.8% in 2018, on a weight basis. On a per-item basis, it is likely that less than a third of own-brand plastic packaging items are classed as ‘widely recycled’, due to the presence of more numerous but lighter materials such as films. This suggests that about two-thirds of supermarkets’ own brand plastic packaging items cannot be widely recycled.

  • Some progress has been made by supermarkets in the past year towards addressing plastics along the grocery supply chain. Best practices must now be enforced through introducing criteria based upon these into fisheries and agricultural supplier policies. 

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