This content was archived on 12 Jul 2010.

Bags - Retailers

Retailers are also playing their part. A number of major retailers have signed up to the Voluntary Carrier Bag Agreement. This means that the retailers agreed to reduce the environmental impact of carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008. In September 2008, retailers set a new target to reduce carrier bag usage by 50% by spring 2009 at the Scottish Government's first 'supermarket summit'.

There are a number of ways in which the retailers have set about achieving this. For example, Tesco reward customers with 'green' clubcard points for reusing bags, Marks and Spencer's are charging customers 5p for standard carrier bags in their food department and Sainsbury's are now using bags made from one-third recycled content.


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Asda are working towards a target of zero waste to landfill by the end of 2010. They are aiming to reduce the number of bags issued in total by 50% by April 2009. Free carrier bags have been removed from display at checkouts and customers are asked if they have brought their own bags and offered reusable bags if they haven't.

Asda have significantly increased sales of reusable bags and reduced carrier bag usage by over half a billion bags in the second half of 2008. Customer research and feedback led Asda to revamp their range of reusable bags to give customers more choice, making sustainability affordable for everyone.

In addition to reducing bag usage, Asda have limited the environmental impact of bags themselves by decreasing their size and increasing their recycled content. As well as reducing the thickness of bags, they have also removed the colour to make them stronger. In-store recycling schemes ensures that the plastic is re-used.

Asda is continuing to build on their campaign and have set challenging bag reduction targets with their store managers, along with further colleague incentives.


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The Co-operative has committed to reducing the use of carrier bags by 50%. Free carrier bags have been removed from direct customer access at all stores.

Trials on carrier bag reductions have been run in Northampton, Hull and the Isle of Arran. These trials involved a strong promotion of reusable bags, as well as the introduction of fully-certified home-compostable bags, sold at cost price. The removal of carrier bags from direct customer access was also a key focus of the trials, as was the introduction of smaller sized carrier bags, and the provision of plastic bag recycling bins in store. These trials are now being extended to more stores around the UK, including stores in Glasgow, Paisley, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire and the Borders.

The Co-operative offers Fairtrade cotton bags, fold away Handy Shoppers, Bags 4 Life and home-compostable bags. Carrier bag recycling bins are being introduced to all stores.

In Scotland, the number of carrier bags used by Co-op customers reduced by 36.7% in the first 28 weeks of 2008 compared with the same period in 2007, this is equivalent to a reduction of 18 million bags.

Home Retail Group (Argos & Homebase)

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The Home Retail Group's use of plastic carrier bags fell significantly once they started asking customers if they 'need' a bag rather than offering one automatically. They began this programme in 2005. Since then they have used 44% fewer carrier bags. Improved point of sale information, using the image of the blue elephant, has been produced this year in order to reduce bag consumption further. They are also offering reuseable bags.

In 2009/10 they built on their previous progress by reducing carrier bag usage to 50% (based on 2005 levels). They have reduced waste to landfill from 58,000 tonnes in 2005 to 19,000 tonnes in 2008.

Initiatives for 2009/10 included:

  • Reduce landfill tonnage by a further 10%
  • Achieve recycling rates of over 75%
  • Achieve 50% reduction in consumption of carrier bags
  • Introduce packaging reductions on a fifth of the product range

Click here to find out more.

Marks and Spencer

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Marks & Spencer is now charging customers 5p for its standard food carrier bags, which are made from 100% recycled plastic. All of the 1.85p profit from the sale of these bags is being donated to Groundwork, an environmental charity, which is investing the money in creating or improving parks, play areas and gardens across the UK. 15 million 'Bags 4 Life', also made from 100% recycled plastic, were distributed to customers for free prior to the introduction of charging. Click here to find out more.


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Morrisons is working hard to reduce carrier bag use across all of its stores.

They sell small and large woven durable shopping bags in a seasonal design, in both large and small sizes. They also sell their 10p Charity of the Year bag which is recycled, recyclable and reusable, and a reusable wine carrier made from recycled PET. They have reduced the environmental impact of standard carrier bags by more than 25% since 2006, cutting around 4,000 tonnes of plastic.

The reduction has been achieved by offering their customers alternatives and then encouraging reuse of them, through reducing the amount of plastic in their bags by 10% and by introducing smaller bags for convenience shopping. In addition, all stores have carrier bag recycling units.

Morrisons gave away 10 million free reusable bags to customers in both May and December 2008 and will be supporting Natural Scotland's carrier bag campaign in March 2009 through initiatives aimed at cutting carrier bag use further still in Scotland.

Click here to find out more.


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Nisa-Today's is committed to phasing out non-degradeable carrier bags from its central distribution arm by the end of 2008. This was achieved and all standard bags available through the group are now degradeable.

Nisa-Today's has also launched jute bag and bag for life concepts for its members in 2008. Plans are in place to introduce a 'Making A Difference Locally' bag for life (the group's national charity designed to benefit local communities) that will retail at 99p with a contribution going to the shops individual charity fund.  The Today's Group also launched a re-usable shopping bag for its wholesale members in 2008.


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Sainsbury's have held a number of 'Make the Difference' days where customers are encouraged to reuse bags by receiving a free 'bag 4 life' along with fridge magnet and car sticker reminders. Over 15 million 'bags 4 life' have now been given away. Their 'bags for life' are made of 100% recycled content, the profits from these are used to support local charity projects. They also sell jute and fair-trade cotton bags.

Carrier bag recycling facilities at the front of stores have led to 150 million bags being recycled which is the equivalent of 1,283 tonnes of plastic.

They are aiming to reduce the number of carrier bags given away by 50% by April 2009 and have already increased the recycled content of their carrier bags from 33% to 50%. They also reward customers with Nectar points for reusing bags.

Sainsbury's have recently announced a new text service to help customers to remember their reusable bags.

Click here to find out more.


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In 2008, SPAR Scotland retailer, C J Lang & Son Ltd introduced a 2p charge on all carrier bags in 92 of its own stores. The scheme has proved a great success sending out the message to customers to: 'Reduce, Reuse and Recycle' their carrier bags.

Carrier bag usage in C J Lang & Son's own stores has decreased by 28% since the scheme started and all proceeds are donated to CHILDREN 1ST, who have already benefitted from £31,411.

SPAR stores offer a range of alternatives to the single use carrier bag including a reusable bag, jute bag and black woven bag.


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Tesco are running a range of initiatives to encourage shoppers to reduce the number of carrier bags that they use. Since August 2006, they have given out over 2 million fewer bags, primarily by rewarding customers who reuse bags with green Clubcard Points.

They have already reached their target of reducing the number of bags issued by a quarter by 2008 and are now aiming to halve bag use by February 2009.

Tesco sell a range of reusable shopping bags including a designer reusable bag range (by Cath Kidston), with profits going to their charity of the year. Their Bags 4 Life are made from 100% recycled plastic and can also be recycled.

Many stores have a carrier bag recycling unit in a prominent location and all of their free carrier bags are made of degradable plastic. gives customers the opportunity to receive 'bagless deliveries', which means that all but a handful of sensitive goods are delivered without any bags. Drivers are also trained to ask for bags to take back for recycling. Click here to find out more.


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Waitrose is working hard to encourage a change in behaviour amongst their customers. They have removed free carrier bags from display at checkouts, offer customers a Bag 4 Life before providing standard carrier bags and use in-store reminders to help customers to remember their bags.

Since the introduction of its Bag 4 Life in 1997 Waitrose has avoided the use of around 50 million carrier bags and 8,000 tonnes of packaging each year.

They replace and recycle all returned Bags 4 Life free of charge including those from competitors. Returned bags are recycled into Plaswood furniture (i.e. benches and picnic tables) and then frequently donated to local communities.

In addition to selling reusable jute bags, Waitrose plastic carrier bags now contain 33% recycled material and also display stronger environmental messaging encouraging customers to reuse and recycle their bags.

Last year Waitrose introduced new bags for their Delivery Service. The new bags contain 33% recycled content and are 100% recyclable.