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UK retailers sign agreement to reduce environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008

March 15, 2007 at 1:24 am

Around 13 billion carrier bags are used by shoppers in the UK every year. Though they are made from around 70% less plastic than they were 20 years ago, most carrier bags are still made of polyethylene, which is non-degradable. This means that as well as using up non-renewable energy in their production, plastic bags can take hundreds of years break down. They can also cause direct damage to wildlife and are one of the worst offenders for spoiling beaches and parks.

Widespread concern surrounding the environmental impact of plastic bags has finally brought the UK retail sector together in a joint effort to tackle the issue. Over 20 retailers, including big names ASDA, Boots, Debenhams, John Lewis, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Primark have signed an agreement with the government and the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

The agreement proposes a 25% reduction in the overall environmental impact of carrier bags by the end of 2008. This is to be achieved through three main routes:

1) Reducing the environmental impact of each carrier bag.
2) Encouraging customers to significantly reduce the number of carrier bags they use.
3) Enabling the recycling of more carrier bags where appropriate.

These measures build on existing ‘bag for life’ schemes, which have seen retailers developing and using alternative materials and trialling bigger bags that carry more shopping.

If the 25% reduction target is achieved, carbon dioxide emissions will be cut by up to 58,500 tonnes a year; the equivalent of taking 18,000 cars off the road for a year.

Though widely accepted as a step in the right direction, other countries have gone even further in the battle against the carrier bag. The Irish Republic has levied a 15 cent (10p) charge on plastic bags since 2002, which is claimed to have reduced usage by 90%. A similar tax has been proposed in Scotland. Australia’s government intends to completely phase out lightweight plastic carrier bags by the end of 2008.

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