By Cara Sulieman
SCOTTISH supermarket customers have cut the number of carrier bags they use by HALF over the past three years.
The seven big players in the market – Asda, Co-op, Marks and Spencer, Sainsbury’s, Somerfield, Tesco and Waitrose – say they have reduced the number of bags handed out by 49 per cent from 78.4 million every month to 39.6 million.
It comes just a year after the Scottish Government set the target of reducing carrier bag usage to 50 per cent across the country.
Each supermarket used their own technique to encourage their customers to reuse bags, with many using current rewards schemes already in place.
Not far off target
Tesco chose to award their customers Clubcard points for every carrier bag they re-used, whilst Marks and Spencer charge 5p for a plastic bag.
The figures, released by the British Retail Consortium and Scottish Government yesterday, show that they are not far off their target.
It means that Scotland used 39 million less bags in May 2009 than they did in May 2006.
When the target was set at the first Supermarket Summit in 2008, the rest of the UK followed suit and most regions have also cut their usage by almost 50 per cent.
Richard Lochhead, Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and the Environment, said: “This is fantastic news and another major step towards a zero waste Scotland.
“I’d like to thank every member of the public and all the retailers and their staff who helped us achieve this remarkable cut in carrier bag use.
“Scotland led the way by working with retailers to reduce the number of bags and was the first country in the UK to introduce the 50 per cent target.
“The fact that Scotland has achieved the largest reduction in the UK is testament to the partnership forged between the Scottish Government and the retailers and also shows how successful our recent bags campaign was.
“I hope that we can now push on and, as well as cutting bag numbers further, work together to tackle other important environmental issues such as food waste and packaging.”
Although it has been a success, a lot of work has gone in to changing the behaviour of the public, who used to assume they would get carrier bags at the checkout.
The Director General of the British Retail Consortium, Stephen Robertson, said: “This is a spectacular achievement.
“Changing customer habits on this scale, this quickly, isn’t easy.
“But it’s a huge testament to customers, who’ve switched to bags for life and cut bag usage. Hard working retail staff also deserve credit, as do our supermarket members – who’ve spent the money during these tough times to help this happen.
“These figures send a clear message: the voluntary approach is very successful and can lead to better informed customers and lasting change.”
Under the Climate Change (Scotland) Bill ministers have the power to impose a mandatory charge for plastic bags, but have said that they won’t do this if usage is cut voluntarily.
And the Scottish Grocers’ Federation is also supporting the campaign, although they say it is harder for small businesses to cut down their bag use.
John Drummond, Chief Executive of SGF, said: “It is often very difficult for convenience stores because there is a difference in bag use between weekly planned shops and more spontaneous visits to shops where customers are less likely to take their own bags.
“However, retailers are making determined efforts to encourage customers to change their habits and to use durable bags for sustained use on an on-going basis.”