UK retailers criticised over plastic bags
Bag for life manufacturer says major stores do not prioritise reducing plastic bag use and the UK lags behind other countries.
The world's largest manufacturer of "bags for life" has criticised UK retailers for not doing more to restrict the use of plastic carrier bags and warned that the UK is lagging behind other countries after failing to agree a national policy involving an outright ban.
Supreme Creations, based in India, makes millions of cotton and jute bags every year for retailers such as Tesco, Sainsbury's, Boots, the Co-operative, Debenham's, the Energy Saving Trust, Oxfam and Topshop, as well as celebrity handbag designer Anya Hindmarch who designed the sought after "I'm not a plastic bag" bag for Sainsbury's.
Sunday night after receiving an environmental award from the Prince of Wales's Business in the Community charity, the founder of the company said the "crucial environmental issue" appeared not to be a priority for British retailers and urged them to do more to catch up with international competitors.
Dr R Sri Ram, who founded Supreme Creations 12 years ago, said: "The UK lags way behind many other countries in the world on reducing plastic bag usage. Supreme Creations has really seen this issue drop off retailers' agendas recently, perhaps due to economic difficulties.
"However, it is the responsibility of retailers to work with consumers to come up with innovative alternatives to help people switch from environmentally damaging plastic bags."
Unlike Ireland, India, South Africa, most of Europe and parts of the USA, the UK has not banned or imposed a tax on single-use bags. But some retailers have been more pioneering than others with Tesco, the Co-op and Boots each producing their own reusable bags.
The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will shortly announce the progress made towards meeting a national target of 50 per cent reduction in plastic bag usage.
Its figures show that while 45 per cent of shoppers say they have bought a bag for life, only 12 per cent use one regularly.
A Defra spokesperson said: "Shoppers in the UK each get through 13,000 carrier bags in their lifetime. We can't continue this - it is a huge waste and a visible symbol of our throwaway society.
"Retailers and the public have already made great steps in the right direction as they have reduced the amount of bags given out by 26 per cent since 2006, but we do need to do more. In support of this the government launched the 'Get a bag habit' campaign earlier this year aiming to help everyone to reuse their bags."
In April 2007, Modbury in Devon became the first European town to ban plastic bags as a result of a ground-breaking campaign led by Devon camerawoman Rebecca Hoskings. Supermarkets, meanwhile, have relied on voluntary action by consumers, but despite numerous bags for life offers, free plastic bags are generally still available on demand.
According to a BBC study, 58 per cent of the public would like a ban on plastic bags, while a recent report from the Institute of Grocery Distribution showed that nine in 10 consumers feel it is their duty to contribute to a better society and environment, while 89 per cent say all products should use recycled packaging.
Last week, the Welsh assembly asked for public views on its plans to ban free plastic bags in the country. The proposal, which is based on a highly successful move in Ireland, will involve putting a 15p charge on shopping bags to encourage people to reuse them and so reduce unnecessary waste.
Ireland introduced a charge of 15 cents in 2002 and has since seen a 90% reduction in single use carrier bags.
Tesco, the UK's biggest supermarket chain, said it had reduced its plastic bag usage by awarding customers reward points. "We believe encouraging customers to reuse bags and rewarding them for doing so is more effective and sustainable than the alternative approach sometimes advocated of taxing bags or charging for them.
"We believe that climate change will only be tackled successfully if people are encouraged to change their behaviour willingly."
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