/ Shopping

Ban free carrier bags altogether, not just plastic?

Free plastic bags have divided opinion here on Which? Convo. Of late, the Prime Minister warned supermarkets to hand out fewer, with a ban on all single-use bags (including paper) coming into force in Wales.

David Cameron issued an ultimatum to supermarkets last week: cut down on the number of bags you give out or be forced to charge for them.

Last year the number of bags used rose by over 5% to 333 million, the first rise in five years.

Wales bans free single-use bags

From 1 October, all single-use bags handed out in Wales will incur a minimum charge of 5p. And we’re not just talking about supermarket plastic bags.

Any single-use bag, (i.e. ones not designed to be used again) will incur a charge, whether it’s plastic, paper or plant-based starch. Plus, all retailers will have to charge for bags, which I think is a good thing. The big bag focus has always been on supermarkets, but (as has often been said) this leaves other retailers to hand them out without penalty.

I have to admit that I’ve been known to pop into the clothing section of M&S first, bought something small, and then popped downstairs to use this free bag for my food purchases (where the bags are 5p a pop). The ban in Wales would put an end to such sneaky free clothing bags.

The ban on free bags would also apply to takeaways and fast food outlets, as well as internet grocery deliveries. I think the fast food one’s going to be a shock – can you imagine paying for the paper bag you get with your McDonald’s meal? We’re used to our brown paper bag with our lunch/breakfast/late-night snack on the way home* (*delete as applicable). And you can’t really put a kebab in your handbag…

As for online supermarkets, I know some give extra loyalty points if you choose not to have bags, but going bagless isn’t always practical. For example, we get a Sainsbury’s bulk delivery every 6-8 weeks as we don’t have a car. We live on the 2nd floor of a converted house, so as much as I’d like to turn down plastic bags there’s no way I’m carrying all my groceries up the stairs pack by pack.

Time to change our bag habits

But something does need to be done about the number of bags we use. They may not be the biggest environmental issue, but they are an issue. And wasteful. As Hannah Jolliffe pointed out on a previous Convo:

‘The reason that bags-for-life aren’t working hard enough is because it’s not ingrained in our culture. People aren’t using them for life, they’re buying them, forgetting them and then getting plastic bags. We’re in a no-man’s-land and people are just getting whatever’s convenient at the time.’

Yes it might be a hassle, but it’s something that becomes habit over time. I try to have at least one bag with me just in case I pop to the shops on my way home, but sometimes I forget (I’m not sure I can match Patrick Steen’s 50+ bags-for-life, but I’m close). And while 5p won’t break the bank for most, a bag-for-life isn’t that much more expensive and can be used again.

While I do think compulsory charging for carrier bags is a step towards addressing the problems they cause, I’d like to see the profits from those charges being ploughed back into environmental programmes and for this information to be published.

Wales has introduced a voluntary Code of Practice stating that proceeds should go to ‘good causes’, however there’s currently no obligation for retailers to do this. Otherwise it’s just another way for shops to make money from us.

vicky says:
12 May 2012

I am in total agreement with the charge on plastic bags and would further prefer to see a higher charge on these bags to reduse the usage of them. However I am appalled that there is a charge on paper bags. I believe this is only happening in Wales. When your buying clothes you don’t wont to use your reusable grocery bag which previously had food in it, you are therefore obligated to buy a plastic bag. I believe we are being ripped right off………………
Charge more for plastic bags and give us free paper bags like the rest of europe….

What about all the energy and natural resources that go into producing paper bags? It is not difficult to keep reusable bags for food and different bags for other purposes.

Oscar says:
30 May 2012

I realise I’m on the late side, but have just found this conversation whilst doing some research on an issue regarding the Welsh scheme.
I live in South Wales an am in full support of the scheme, but would prefer to be using cardboard boxes from the stores to take my shopping home – after all it avoids buying plastic at all and can be reused or put out for recycling when no longer serviceable.
Morrisons puts out boxes at the end of the tills but Tesco and Waitrose, (who claim to have outstanding environmental credentials) do not. I have been given 3 different reasons in different Waitrose stores – firstly that it’s a fire risk, secondly that officially they say it’s a fire risk but actually Waitrose think they look messy, and thirdly that they don’t give out the boxes because they get paid to recycle them themselves.
How come it’s a fire risk (in a non smoking store) in Waitrose but not in Morrisons? I smell a cop out!
If you go to the beaches here in Wales at the end of a busy weekend, you still see plastic bags strewn all over the place because people are still just paying for them in with their shopping. The only difference is that the majority are now the so called ‘bags for life’ we pay 12p for rather than 5p.
Our money from the bag sales is supposed to go to charity, but where is the audit trail or customer choice? I like to choose what charity I give to!
Surely, if this were really about the environment and not about money then the supermarkets would be providing paper bags and letting us reuse the boxes?

First may I state that I am totally in favour of paying for carrier bags for grocery shopping, I have used my own bags for this type of shopping for several years. However, it I find it difficult to accept this when clothes shopping. I recently went to M&S (spur of the moment) and purchased a couple of tops, but had to pay 5p for a carrier bag. Wrote to M&S to question this; , the poor response I received ignored totally comment about the clothes and said “The only bags we’re still allowed to give customers for free are the clear bags for loose fruit and veg, and the paper bags at our bakery counters for things like single bread rolls, pastries and for

I do not understand how this company expect people to purchase underwear or a coat without providing a bag. Are other clothing outlets charging for carrier bags – what is the Government legisation on this?

I believe that the clothes shops have to charge for bags, so M&S is just complying with the law. Here is a link to a recent Conversation: https://conversation.which.co.uk/travel-leisure/pay-supermarket-plastic-bag-5p-fee/

I have no idea why shops could not provide free paper bags if they wished to; it’s not illegal. They would be perfectly suitable for clothes and likely to be kept and used again. It is only single use plastic bags up to a certain thickness that are caught by the new law. It’s a case of retailers exaggerating the impact of the law for their commercial benefit. The response you received from M&S was dishonest. Many department stores use heavy grade paper bags with string handles for clothes purchases. Even if they’re not used again they are likely to go in the recycling bin.

Since they are being paid 5p each for the plastic bags they do issue there is no reason why retailers could not use a better quality bag. So far as I can see there has been no improvement in the strength or rip-resistance of bags. The 5p is a charge [purchase price], not a fine. The cost of supplying them is deductible by the retailer from the receipts before donating the balance to good causes.

I don’t know why some retailers are making this up as they go along. The government guidance was perfectly clear and comprehensive.

If M&S chose to offer paper bags with their clothing, as some retailers do, then no charge is payable (nothing is free, of course – the cost will be recovered one way or another). If they do not but only offer plastic then what they have said is quite correct. I don’t know why we would quibble over paying 5p for a bag, or paying for a reusable bag. Remembering to take one with you when shopping becomes a habit, instead of continually collecting free bags to throw in the bin.

There was a letter inthe Daily Mail on Friday [20/11/2015] from a lady in Hertfordshire who wrote that “she was shocked to discover that marks & Spencer doesn’t provide paper bags for unpackaged clothes and wrote to chief executive Marc Bolland to ask why. The reply said >We don’t wrap items in paper or use paper bags because they use over twice the energy to make (double the carbon footprint) which translates into twice the cost. Because they are larger and thicker, they need more transport space, which means that more fuel is used and carbon emitted . . .< One would have thought that the cost (a few pennies per bag?) could be incorporated in the cost of the garment. I doubt that M&S paper bags (recyclable) would have any effect on man-made global warming."

I cannot fault M&S's environmental and commercial logic but it surprises me that such a renowned retailer cannot contrive a way of protecting shoppers' expensive purchases without either expecting the purchaser to come equipped with a sturdy bag or to offer an extremely thin and flimsy bag for 5p. No mention is made in the comments from their CEO of the massive savings that M&S [and all other major retailers] are making from the cessation of free bag issues. I am fully in favour of the new law but believe that some products need to be wrapped and protected to make them purchasable. If you look in the M&S Homewares department there are many products sold in gargantuan amounts of unnecessary packaging if the same logic applied. And as I have commented several times before, if I buy a suit, or jacket & trousers, I get a free suit-carrier as well as the coat hanger, but if a woman buys a coat [and they have 58 lines above £90 up to £300] there is nothing but a thin bag at 5p, or whatever you have remembered to bring with you. So for impulse purchases the company is not interested. Strange that their 'general merchandise' category is struggling right now and that industry commentators, as well as their own suppliers, are looking for a better response to market demand.

Surely the answer is to buy a ‘bag for life’, which can be re-used.

Yes, but M&S don’t sell bags for life that are suitable for things like an overcoat, or a bale of towels or bedding.

Buy a duvet – you get a box; buy a duvet cover and some sheets & pillow cases – you get nothing. It doesn’t make sense.

The best profits come from spontaneous sales.

I recently purchased a really nice durable “bag for life” from a local independent garden centre. It had a lovely coloured picture of a male pheasant covering the whole of one side and surprise, surprise, I turned it over and there was the female, although not quite as vibrant as her male counterpart, still very appealing.

I guess for the meagre sum of £2 99, I ‘bagged’ (pardon the pun) the pigeon pair 🙂

It’s a ‘brace’ of pheasants [and other game birds], Beryl – but smart move on the bag front.

A ‘brace of pheasants’ conjures up visions of slaughtered and skinned birds ready for the oven John, but I stand corrected. A popular name for a country pub though.

Are you having a ‘grouse’ day?

Where we live there are shoots on all sides but the guns have been quiet today [or perhaps they have just broken off for lunch]. Yes, I have been grousing and grumbling a bit today haven’t I? But the bell has just rung for dinner so I had better scoot.

I hope you return your bag to your car after you have emptied it Beryl. I suspect that leaving bags at home will be the main reason people have to still buy 5p carriers. It is getting into the habit.

The last time I bought clothes at M&S they were put into a decent sized bag. This was before the (sensible) charge was introduced. I’d be happy to pay for a bag rather than have the cost included in the garment – if I buy several bits and put them all in one bag I don’t want each garment to carry an included cost.

I’ll see what happens on my Christmas shop, but are some saying that you can no longer even buy a bag at Marks that is suitable for holding large garments and bedding?

You can get a thin five-penny store bag in M&S the same as before the new rules. Durability could be an issue under the Consumer Rights Act.

Most bedding now comes prepackaged and is easy to slip into a medium sized bag. I came across a very lightweight but seemingly durable stretch plastic bag that when empty, folds up and slides into a small pouch measuring approx 4×2″ which easily fits into your pocket or handbag. It would have no trouble I am sure accommodating an already prepackaged duvet cover or an item of bed linen.

I agree that there are some problems but in many cases a bag-for-life would be adequate. I’m planning to buy a couple of duvet covers etc. soon and will go armed with a couple of these bags.

But what if you spot a set of saucepans you would like and your bags are already full of duvet covers? If it were me I would probably settle for the five-penny store bag and hope it held up until I got home on the bus and the train.

I think on-line sales will grow even more as people realise how inconvenient the alternative is becoming.

Every saucepan I have bought has come in a box. 🙂 For years I have kept bags in the car and now I always have one or two in my coat pocket.

Yesterday I did my 2 weekly food shop and predictably I left my own bags in the boot of my car. At the checkout I just loaded all of my purchases straight into the trolley and wheeled them out to my car. I could not help but notice how much quicker the whole procedure took within the store, compared with the time it took struggling and loading 3/4 bags. It was not at all difficult to load my shopping into the empty bags in my boot in the car park. If everyone did this, the queues at the checkout would move must faster and you would be able to load your trolley with more purchases as they fit and settle into the trolley, leaving no spaces as with bags.

When shopping for clothes etc I don’t consider 5p an unreasonable amount to pay for just one bag (you can often fit 2 articles into one large bag), but I would like to have a say as to where that 5p is donated.

I don’t know if anyone else has encountered the decrease in quality of ‘bags for life’. Compare current supermarket offerings with ones from a year or two ago, and you may find that the newer ones have a rougher surface. I suspect they are now made out of recycled plastic. Can I pay 20p and have some better quality ones, please?

What has happened to the Tesco Big Green Bag? Rather lurid but durable as long as not used for very heavy loads.

Our bags for life are mainly hessian – lasted years so far, with one repaired (Mrs R) where the seam came unstitched. I’d rather have this sort of material than plastic, but I don’t know whether they are any more environmentally friendly. No pheasants on ours though, Beryl. Watch out they aren’t carrying campylobacter 🙂 .

“M&S says carrier bag usage in food halls has dropped 75 per cent. Last year its food halls used 115million single use carrier bags compared to 464million in 2007”. (thisismoney.co.uk).

M&S started charging in 2008 – 7 years before legislation – and the benefit seems clear.

Incidentally, I wish they wouldn’t describe these as “single use plastic bags”. They can be stuffed into your coat pocket – they are very compact – and used next time you forget your bags for life.

Following the example of Aldi, Lidl, etc. to give credit where it is due.