The story of the environmental impact of 3 types of shopping bag - single use carrier bags, high street plastic bag and reusable bags.
We recently came across this blog 'Mandy Brooks tells the Story of Three Little Bags' which brilliantly sums up the types of bags available to shoppers and how each type effects the environment.
Most shoppers in the UK will be familiar with all types of bags, but recent changes in legislation may change the story for future generations.
"Like a house made of straw they are flimsy & easily blown away".
Single-use carrier bags are convenient, but as Mandy notes, they also cause the most environmental & ecological damage. Only a small percentage get recycled, (although they are often re-used to dispose of rubbish which saves use of more plastic) and many end up as litter and can damage wildlife.
Single-use carrier bags are currently given away for free in England. Scotland is introducing a carrier bag charge this month (October 20th 2014). As you can see from the graph below, from 2010-2013 there has been a rise in the number of single-use carrier bags used in these countries.
Conversely, there has been a huge drop in Wales and Northern Ireland but both countries have seen the introduction of a single-use carrier bag charge where shoppers are charged 5p for every bag they take. It demonstrates that cost outweighs convenience as well as concerns about the environment. Hopefully, we'll see this same downward trend for figures when the single-use carrier bag charge is introduced in England and Scotland.
Common High Street Plastic Bag
"Like a house made of sticks, they stand up to some wear, and don't blight the neighborhood."
Better know in the UK as a reusable shopping bag or heavy duty plastic bag, these are thicker than their single-use cousins and can be reused many, many times. Most often used for purchases in department stores, fashion outlets and high street stores. They are also widely sold in supermarkets for a minimal cost and can be replaced for free when they start showing signs of wear and tear.
According to WRAP's figures, only 5% of the bags used in supermarkets were the thicker reusable carrier bags. So although better for the environment only a small number of consumers are regularly using these types of bag when buying their groceries.
"Like a house made of bricks, they are built to last."
The use of reusable bags have really taken off and most people have at least one 'bag for life' in their home. In fact, in the last 7 years there has been a 70% increase in the use of reusable bags in the UK. This huge shift is most notable in Wales and Northern Ireland since the single use carrier bag was introduced as mindset and habits change. We predict this will continue when the rest of the UK bring in the charge. It would seem that consumers don't want to pay for a flimsy carrier bag and are more inclined to carry a reusable shopping bag with them to avoid the charge.
This also represents a huge branding & marketing opportunity for retailers. A Bag for Life are walking advertisements, so if you can get your customers to carry your promotional bag then they be acting as your very own brand ambassadors!
To find out how your retail business can benefit from the charge take a look at our blog The Plastic Bag Charge: 4 Sales & Marketing Opportunities for Retailers . You can also read our blogs about the carrier bag levy.