New figures on carrier bags use released by WRAP

5th July 2012

New data released today by WRAP shows a rise in the number of single-use carrier bags used by supermarket customers across the UK during 2011, compared to the previous year.

A total of 8.0 billion ‘thin-gauge’ bags were issued in the UK in 2011, which represents a 5.4% rise compared with 2010 (7.6 billion).  The figures revealed a 22% fall in Wales, a 7.5% rise in England, an 8.1% rise in Northern Ireland and no significant change in Scotland over the same period.

Data on carrier bags issued by supermarkets has been gathered and analysed by WRAP at the request of UK governments on an annual basis since 2006.

Compared with 2006, when WRAP first began gathering this data, there has been an overall decline of 35% from the 12.2 billion 2006 baseline.

The figures reveal that there has been a 51% reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in the manufacture of all carrier bags (including re-usable ‘bags for life’) since 2006. Between 2010 and 2011 there was an 11% increase. Even taking this into account, the overall downward trend in the number of bags being used suggests that more recycled materials are being used in bag manufacture than in 2006.

Including re-usable bags, the overall number of bags distributed in 2011 was 8.4 billion – an overall drop since 2006 of 4.0 billion. In 2010, the overall number of bags was 8.0 billion.

Number of bags (millions)

Thin-gauge / single-use bags12,17411,0658,6057,2087,5687,976
Bags for Life245280399362406416
All bags12,41911,3469,0047,5707,9748,392

Weight of bags (thousands of tonnes)

Thin-gauge / single-use bags104.896.869.154.056.561.0
Bags for Life4.97.9 14.311.611.811.2
All bags109.8104.783.465.668.372.3

Number of thin-gauge carrier bags – breakdown by nation

 Bag (billions)

% change (2010-2011)

UK7.57  7.98+5.4%
England6.29  6.77+7.5%
Wales0.35 0.27* ‒22%
Scotland0.75  0.74‒0.3%
Northern Ireland0.17  0.19+8.1%

* The Welsh Government introduced a 5p charge for single use carrier bags on October 1st 2011

Thin gauge bags used per capita per month

Bags per person per month2006200720082009/1020102011
Scotland11.9 11.9
Northern Ireland8.08.7

NB: Figures differ from those previously reported by year due to the inclusion of data from Morrisons for all years

The baseline figure for subsequent years shown here differs from those previously published. This is because data from Morrisons is now included in the published figures as it is now a full BRC member and has asked us to disclose its additional data.  We’ve added this into our reporting to give us a more accurate reflection of bag use over time.

WRAP’s vision is a world without waste, where resources are used sustainably. It works in partnership to help businesses, individuals and communities improve resource efficiency. Established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
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