Government body the Environment Agency claimed in a report earlier this week that thin plastic carrier bags have the lowest carbon footprint of any type of bag, contradicting popular belief.
A report entitled Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, showed that a cotton shopping bag has to be re-used at least 131 times to have less environment impact than a single use plastic bag.
Many media reports over recent years have highlighted the environmental danger of using disposable plastic carriers to bag shopping items, and some groups have lobbied for laws to encourage retailers and consumers to use reusable bags instead.
The British Retail Consortium (BRC) argues however that this new evidence shows that the threat posed by thin plastic bags is overstated and public opinion should focus on other more serious environmental causes such as food waste.
Andrew Opie, BRC Sustainability Director, said: “We’re pleased to see the Environment Agency’s report acknowledges single-use carrier bags can have less impact than the alternatives. Yes, the plastic bag has become symbolic but this report confirms it is not the great environmental evil some would have us believe.
“Agonising over bags misses the point. There are much bigger targets supermarkets are helping customers to work on, such as reducing food waste. To obsess over bags distracts consumers from making bigger changes to their habits which would do more to benefit the environment.”
In October the Welsh Assembly is introducing a minimum charge on customers of 5p per plastic carrier bag to try and reduce the number produced, used and then thrown away by consumers.
Research produced by the BRC in August claimed that plastic bag usage in Wales fell by 50 per cent through non-charging initiatives during the last four years, and the lobby group has campaigned fiercely against the Welsh Assembly’s law claiming it is an unnecessary and misguided burden on the retail industry.
With the Westminster government considering similar legislation for the whole of the UK, the BRC hopes this latest research will help prove that the current measures being taken by retailers to reduce plastic bag numbers are sufficient.
Opie added: “Retailers and customers cut bag use by 4.6 billion a year between 2006 and 2010, despite sales increasing during the same period. Handing out bags-for-life and encouraging customers to re-use them is a big part of that. Efforts to cut down bag use will continue but they must not be the only focus.”