06 July 2012 10:09
The number of single-use carrier bags handed out by UK supermarkets rose last year, figures from waste reduction body WRAP show.
Supermarket customers used almost eight billion carrier bags in 2011, a 5.4% rise on the 7.6 billion in 2010, with each person using an average of almost 11 a month.
It is the second year in a row the number of single-use plastic bags has risen, although their use has fallen by more than a third (35%) since 2006.
But the figures show that a minimum 5p levy introduced in Wales last October for all single-use bags is working, with the number of bags handed out in the country falling by more than a fifth (22%) last year.
In England, where no charges have been brought in, the number of plastic bags used by supermarket customers rose by 7.5% and in Northern Ireland, where a levy will come into force next year, use increased by 8.1%.
In Scotland, where a consultation into introducing a minimum 5p levy was launched last week, there was no significant change in the number of single-use bags handed out.
Wales's environment minister John Griffiths said: "These results show that the way to significantly reduce the use of single-use carrier bags is for governments to introduce a charge to customers for them.
"Net profits from single-use bag purchase are donated by retailers to local charities and environmental causes."
He added: "The public have adjusted brilliantly to our bag charge and the majority now regularly take their own bags with them when they go shopping."
The British Retail Consortium said the rise across the UK was down to changing habits in grocery shopping, with financial constraints meaning families are doing several small shops a week instead of one big trip.
They are also switching from using the car to public transport. Both factors mean they are less likely to have reusable bags with them, the BRC suggested.
The retailers organisation also said that plastic bags were not a major environmental issue, making up a fraction of 1% of household waste, but if governments wanted to reduce their use they would have to legislate.
BRC head of environment Bob Gordon said: "It's no surprise the use of a bag charge in Wales has reduced the number of bags taken by consumers there. If other governments see reducing the use of carrier bags as a priority, they will have to take a lead and go beyond voluntary measures.
"Any legislation should be as similar as possible to what's in place in Wales and we are already working with other governments as they develop their plans."
The figures from Wrap showed the amount of new plastic being used to make carrier bags, including "bags for life", had fallen by more than half (51%) since 2006.
Last year the amount of new plastic used rose by 11% but Wrap said the overall decline suggests more recycled materials are being used in plastic bags.