After introducing a surcharge on disposable plastic bags and encouraging the use of reusable bags, British retailer Marks & Spencer has cut its disposable plastic bag purchasing by 80 percent.
Another retailer, the National Trust, has similarly seen its plastic bag usage decline 85 percent, reports The Guardian UK.
Whereas Marks & Spencer used to purchase 460 million bags a year, now it is down to 80 million. National Trust, with its home and garden centers, has reduced its purchases by a million bags.
More than 20 UK retailers overshot their targeted 25 percent reduction in plastic bag use by the end of 2008, instead cutting their use by 40 percent, according to the article. The new goal is to cut bag use to half of 2006 levels by the end of May.
While Marks & Spencer and some others have been charging 5 pence per bag, other retailers are using incentives to switch.
For instance, Tesco gives consumers one Green point on its clubcard for every bag they reuse. The program, launched in August 2006, has cut bag use by half. So far, 3 billion bags have been saved.
On the surface, the programs have been a huge success. The UK’s Waste & Resources Action Programme illustrates that the total number of bags in circulation fell from 13.4 billion in 2006 to 9.9 billion last year.
But despite retailers’ best efforts, British consumers continue to be reliant on the plastic bag, as the above number still represents 400 bags per household.
The UK Department for the Environment Food and Rural Affairs is now promoting the “get a bag habit” campaign, which tells people to reuse bags rather than stuffing them in drawers.
The department figures that retailers’ voluntary targets will reduce overall bag use by 5 billion units a year in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In the U.S., the Full Circle Recycling Initiative aims for 40 percent recycled content in all plastic bags by 2015, including at least 25 percent postconsumer recycled plastic.