Birmingham shoppers are being urged to reuse the 160 million carrier bags they use annually as part of a new Government drive.
The “Get a Bag Habit” campaign, which has been launched by the Government in conjunction with the British Retail Consortium, aims to reduce the number of carrier bags used by consumers.
The initiative follows a joint supermarket commitment to reach a 50 per cent cut back in the number of bags distributed by the end of May.
Shoppers in Birmingham are being encouraged to reuse their carrier bags after a survey found the number of plastic bags used in the city each year added up to an equivalent of 160 double-decker buses in weight.
New research shows that Britons get through an average of 13,000 carrier bags during their lifetimes, with 160 million bags used annually by consumers in Birmingham alone.
Worcestershire-based Jutexpo, a company which manufactures sustainable shopping bags made out of jute, has welcomed the new Government drive and is confident it will be an important step forward in the development of a healthier environment.
Jutexpo founder Barrie Turner said: “We are fully supporting all the high street supermarkets who have acted very seriously in taking this responsibility on board.
“We recognise the importance of plastic but we are also aware that the uncontrollable use of plastic will have major effects on the environment. We are the alternative and we have definitely noticed an upturn in supply in recent years.
“I cannot speak highly enough about the retailers. They have taken this challenge warmly, managed it effectively, and I cannot see them not reaching the Government target of 50 per cent.”
Jutexpo was founded in 2002 and is now a key leading manufacturer and supplier of jute bags – selling over 20 million bags to date across the UK.
Although Birmingham is a top consumer of carrier bags in the West Midlands region, it is not the only one. Coventry follows up with close to 50 million bags, with Stoke on Trent and Wolverhampton using up a total of about 40 million bags per year.
Yet there have been signs of improvement over recent years as retailers exceeded a previous commitment and reached a 26 per cent cut by 2006.
The Government is hoping that, with the launch of the new campaign, stores will be encouraged to repeat their successes and reduce the use of carrier bags by half in the coming months.
The seven participating supermarkets who have committed to reaching the cut back are Asda, the Co-operative Group, Waitrose, Marks and Spencer, Sainsburys, Somerfield and Tesco.
Environment minister Jane Kennedy stressed the increasing waste problem that could result from using millions of plastic carrier bags each year, describing it as a “visible symbol of our throwaway society”.
She added: “Retailers and the public have already made great steps in the right direction, and I think if we really can ‘get a bag habit’ and remember to reuse our bags, it puts us on the right track to doing even more to reduce the amount of waste we’re sending to landfill.”
Jane Milne, British Retail Consortium (BRC) business environment director, said customers had already done a great job in reducing the number of bags given out by over a quarter.
Dr Richard Swannell, WRAP director of retail and organic programmes, commented on how changes in consumer shopping habits have helped to keep down the number of plastic bags used each year, adding that further efforts could lead to an even brighter future.
He said: “If we remember to reuse bags more often we can use much less than the 9.9 billion bags taken last year. That has to be a positive step forward.”