Scots use 130m fewer plastic bags after 5p charge

The fall in single-use carrier bags was described as 'astounding' by minister Richard Lochhead. Picture: Neil Hanna

The fall in single-use carrier bags was described as 'astounding' by minister Richard Lochhead. Picture: Neil Hanna

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SCOTS have dramatically ditched their use of supermarket plastic bags since a 5p charge was introduced, new figures have revealed.

Almost 130 million fewer single-use bags were bought under the mandatory charging regime since October last year, according to a report by environmental organisation Wrap.

The figures were described as “astounding” by Scottish Government environment secretary Richard Lochhead after bag usage dropped to 64.6 million in the last three months of 2014 – down from 193.5 million in the same period of 2013.

Meanwhile plastic bag usage went up by 240 million in England in 2014 where no charges apply.

Scots still used about 650 million plastic bags throughout 2014 but this was down by 147 million on 2013.

Mr Lochhead said: “The single- use carrier bag charge has been a tremendous success, driving behaviour change to reduce litter across our beautiful country and also the amount of resources we, as a nation, consume.

“Litter is a blight on our environment and I’m delighted with the reports we’ve received from these retailers.

“I’m pleased that so many consumers are now in the habit of reusing bags and the level of support from the Scottish public is extremely heartening.”

The charge has been introduced to encourage shoppers to reuse bags and start using “bags for life” more.

The soaring use of plastic bags can have environmental repercussions, because they can take hundreds of years to decompose. They often end up in water courses and are particularly damaging if they get into the marine environment. Previous figures released by the supermarkets themselves had already indicated a major fall in the use of plastic bag use since the introduction of the 5p charge. The Scottish Government wants to reduce the use of single use carrier bags by 80 per cent.

Wales and Northern Ireland have already introduced charges and their levels of use are a fraction of that in Scotland. Northern Ireland used just 30 million last year compared with Scotland’s 650 million. In Wales the figure was 80 million, although this rose by 10 million on 2013.

Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “In the months since the carrier bag charge was introduced, we have seen a tremendous change in Scots shoppers’ habits, with many more people now bringing reuseable bags.

“I congratulate people for the drop in single-use bags in circulation, as these single-use items usually quickly end up either as litter or landfill.

“Retailers have also embraced the charge and I would encourage those who have not yet done so to sign up to our carrier bag commitment, to enable clear reporting and donation to good causes.”

More than 60 retailers have also signed up to Scotland’s Carrier Bag Commitment to donate the net proceeds of the charge to good causes. It has already raised more than £2 million.

WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said: “It’s fantastic to learn that carrier bag usage in Scotland has dropped so spectacularly since the 5p charge was introduced. Before the charge, Scotland consumed a staggering 800 million carrier bags every year, many of which ended up polluting our environment and threatening wildlife. The clear success of this initiative should encourage ministers to press on with other bold ideas.”

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