/ 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.


Force councils to start giving out free bin and food bags again, and then I’ll be happy with a ban on carrier bags. Until them, leave them alone. They come in handy and not just for carrying shopping.

There are multiple uses for them once emptied of groceries, not least including for putting rubbish in for disposal since my local council has long ceased issuing black refuse bags for such purposes…. the government should leave such matters well alone and let the supermarkets use their discretion whether to issue carrier bags for free that I know two have not done, namely M&S and Lidl here in London. They both charge.

By all means, incentivise but there should be no element of compulsion in this regard.

Pete Massingham says:
13 October 2011

There should absolutely be a compulsory ban on plastic bags and councils should have a legal obligation to provide the means of effective rubbish disposal. If people could see the damage that plastic bags do to the environment and wild life they might just think again and stop being so selfish or lazy in their attitudes to rubbish disposal and shopping All over the world plastics and bages are doing immense damage to our ecology. I for one do not want to contribute to the growing mess and impending environmental catastrophe that is occuring! Take a look at this for a start.http://lensculture.com/jordan.html

Only a minority of people probably actually reuse the plastic bags.
People who read these Conversations ( and their friends etc) are probably all re-users .
The issue is achieving a culture change and getting everyone else to reuse bags.

Oh and while paper bags may decompose easily they generate as much or more CO2 in their manufacture as plastic ones and dont tend to be reused.

I think the government needs to change peoples habits. We had an old phrase book for France dated 1981 and in it it observed that in a supermarket even back then people provided their own bags. So if the Europeans have been doing it for years then why have we got so lazy?, Yes I do recycle carrier bags when I am guilty of getting one but they often blow out of bins and not only are they unsightly litter but they are hazardous to wildlife and the sea constitution is becoming more accidic due to plastic in general. They dont last very long and they are polluting in manufacturing. so bring it on.

….blow out of bins and….?

But if filled sufficiently with rubbish and bin is lidded, I do not see how this could have happened as gravity will see to that and in my case, I additionally secure the top properly with a reef knot.

Jackson says:
4 October 2011

5p is absurd.
Carrier bags should cost £2.
I am constantly offered a “small bag” at M&S, it is disgusting, they shouldn’t be in existence let alone offered to me.
If they cost £2 then nobody would forget their bag for life again.

England and Scotland should follow Ireland and Wales in charging for bags.

Someone has to pay for these bags. Why should I pay if you want free bags and why should you pay for me to have free bags?

It uses energy and resources to make bags, whether or not they are biodegradable, made of plastic or made of paper.

The idea behind the charge is surely to conserve energy and resources.

Charging the end user is a way of doing that.

Admittedly it would be nice if retailers could adjust the price of their products accordingly…

The author’s comment on going bagless for online shopping puzzles me. My Tesco man carries the crates in to our kitchen and I unload direct onto the counter top. Admittedly not all supermarkets have a policy of ‘delivering to the fridge door’. If they had to deliver bagless mind, supermarkets would then have to either deliver to the fridge door or be patient whilst people unloaded from the delivery crates into their own crates, boxes or bags.

This is a bit like the low-energy lamps controversy – forcing consumers to do something they do not like because businesses just will not do [or government doesn’t have the nerve to make them do] sensible things to protect the environment. With shop doors open to the four winds, escalators running when empty, all tills lit up even when there are no staff to operate them [they even say so!], old-fashioned fridges chucking out hot air and badly maintained aircon units simultaneously struggling to cool it, large lorries with small loads left idling in the delivery area, vast excesses of goods having to be given away by charities – and they point the finger at me for wanting to stop the defrosting ice-cream from wetting the shopping and the detergent from tainting the teabags. Had a delivery from John Lewis today; enough polythene to stuff a cushion [if that’s your idea of a good time].

Mrs Smith says:
8 October 2011

Well said! The problem doesn’t stop with plastic bags… I have enough cardboard boxes in my garage to build a decent sized den with multiple rooms for my kids! With cardboard not being recycled by my local council, I am forced to either drive them to a cardboard recycling facility myself (we live rural in the middle of nowhere so a minimum 7 mile drive is required) or I have to put them with the general waste collection, knowing it will end up in landfill and not recycled… Not to mention the amount of plastic used for ‘protective measures’ to ensure my product arrives undamaged – why is there a cardboard box around it in the first place? To protect the product surely!

I think that charging a small fee for plastic bags is a good way to change behaviour.
It has worked well in Ireland so we should not be afraid to embrace change.

Well I think they should ban the “Government” – I recycle all carrier bags – but once or twice I’ve forgotten to take my Sainsburys bags – I’ll start stealing them if I have to pay 5p for the 12 bags I need for my weekly shopping.

Jeff Lewis says:
7 October 2011

Our local Chinese takeaway told us we couldn’t use our own bag as it was illegal and that we had to pay for there’s. Now I’m confinced that this can’t be right but I haven’t been able to find any information that confirms this was a load of rubbish! Does anyone know?

Gerard Phelan says:
7 October 2011

What about buying meat from the butcher? If I buy marinated lamb chops, sausages some chicken breasts and bacon bits then today he puts them into four small thin white bags. If he is forced to charge 5p for each, then what alternative do I have to paying this 20p “David Cameron bag tax” on my shopping? It would hardly be hygienic for me to bring back old bags to hold fresh meat and if I buy a pack of new bags just for my meat purchases – then what is the gain?

Mrs Smith says:
8 October 2011

How about you take in your fridge & freezer safe ‘Tupperware’-like containers with lids into your butcher’s and take your purchases home in them? When you’re home you can pop them straight I to the fridge or freezer! No unpacking required and no plastic bags to dispose!

Mrs Smith says:
8 October 2011

Like Helenjo’s comment about Europeans… I am Dutch and in the Nethermands we never used to get free carrier bags, most people bring their own bags. If you forget to bring your own you are forced to buy a bag for life for €0.10 at a minimum. However you don’t have to if you are willing to carry away your shopping in a cardboard box, in fact in most supermarkets behind the tills you could find a purpose build cubicle where small cardboard boxes are stored for your convenience.
Also in the Netherlands cardboard boxes are recycled and collected with the paper recycling! How novel is that? My council gives me a note with my recycling to please not put any card board, cards, gift wrap paper and all sorts into my box – that is so completely alien to me!
I can remember the many times going shopping at supermarkets here when asked if I want any bags that I get funny faces when I say ‘no thank you’ and pack all my shopping straight back into the trolley. I would turn to those looking and say ‘I have a huge carrier, it’s called a car!’ I had folding crates in the back of my car and I would put the shopping in them and once I got home I’d take the crates with shopping out and carry into the house. Whenever I go shopping nowadays, I have my carrier pack of 8 ‘Footprint Bags’ in the back of my car (they also come in smaller packs of 4 if you don’t have a car) and take those into the shops. I whip out my pack open it to the amazement of the cashier and start packing my shopping… It’s so simple to shop bagless!
Why is it that this seems so difficult to comprehend to the nation?

On the subject of supermarket deliveries, Ocado recycle their own bags, it’s a bit of a feel good solution as I don’t see why they can’t just deliver without bags. They could wait (or let the driver help) unpack the crates as they deliver to the fridge door too! I’ve unpacked the bags in front of the driver before and handed him the bags back, so it could’ve easily be done without bags!

MsSupertech says:
10 October 2011

I have no problem with a ban on free single use plastic carrier bags. I’ve converted to assorted ‘bags for life’ and it’s not a problem. I usually carry a small shopping bag in my handbag and just return my reusable larger grocery bags to the car boot. That way I’m never without.
I’m not in favour of a ban or charge for single use PAPER bags, particularly for any sort of food. Paper bags don’t represent the same environmental menace as plastic bags and simple food hygiene demands some sort of clean wrapping needs to be available. The cost of this is presumably factored into the retail price already.

Many years ago… we always used to go shopping with our own bags. Stores did not routinely provide bags, although fresh produce (i.e. meat, etc) would be wrapped usually in clean paper. Supermarkets started providing bags as an incentive to shop in them. This made us all lazy and forget to take our bags with us. Now that supermarkets have the virtual monopoly and we are in an economic crisis, they would be more than happy to charge for provding bags to help their shrinking bottom lines. We can avoid this by remembering again to take our shopping bags with us! Pretending that bag charging is being done for any other reason is merely spin to justify another hidden price/inflation rise, with the conivance of the Government, as I do not expect that there will be matched price reduction elsewhere.

Mrs Morgan says:
10 October 2011

I agree with last comments- great to see the charge in Wales for plastic bags but paper bags are different. I use Tesco home delivery and they bring their boxes right into my kitchen so there’s no need for any bags!

Derek A says:
10 October 2011

My wife and i have not used a single use bag for the past year.

It is only right and proper to charge for this type of bag, the trouble is most people are just to lazy to take a bag with them when they go shopping.

Fibreron says:
11 October 2011

How did people do their shopping in the past, easy, they used their own bags. It is not that difficult, although for some it must be…They should have been banned from the start instead of charging a silly 5p which wouldn’t damage anyones pocket.

Some of these people are too young to remember and many older people have adapted to the modern wasteful lifestyle. There seems to be an obsession with freedom of choice on Which? Conversations. Had they been around a few years ago I can imagine selfish people pushing for retention of leaded petrol and against the introduction of smokeless zones in cities.

I like plastic bags. I think they are very useful and the perception of negative environmental impact is well over the top.
I reuse them for all kinds of things and dispose of them at the end of their useful life responsibly.
With the unjustified threat of their removal from circulation I’m collecting as many as I can for future use. I certainly won’t be paying out 5p a shot in the supermarket if it ever comes to that. I’ll buy my own in bulk for a unit cost of next to nothing and carry on with business as usual.

Jackson says:
27 October 2011

That’s all well and good, and props to you for using the objects responsibly, but NOBODY else does. Even highly intelligent people that I know and love, I have watched twist them into a ball and throw them in the bin.
The whole country needs a wake up call about their attitudes towards so called disposable objects.
The future should be simple: get a bag for life or stump up £2 for a throwaway carrier bag.

We are living in a new world.

If we were to cast our minds back to say the 1940’s when just after the war. I was shopping for my mother and took a wicker basket to the butcher, green grocer and provision store.

All products bought were in paper bags – hey that was 65 years ago and I am still healthy and riding my bicycle.

These days we have become complacent that everything will be contained in special wrappers.

I’m sorry but we have lost the plot, lets get back into the real world and use our own bags.

Actually like you I can cast my mind back to WW2 (and before) – but you seem to have forgotten many shops used to give a large strong brown paper shopping bag with handles for free if required. The difference is the use of those bags was rather more sustainable being from made wood waste – than plastic bags which made are from oil – which is a non-renewable. resource.

Though I do agree that using a reusable bag is better but in those days we used to shop almost daily – so shopping load was relatively light. Now I shop weekly by car because carrying 10 bags of shopping is effectively impossible – though of course I could walk four miles with a trolley because travelling by bus is also impossible with 10 bags of shopping not to mention incredibly long and boring.

I honestly don’t think we as customers are complacent – we don’t have the choice – Supermarkets have driven most local food shops to close – and – they package the food in special wrappers because it keeps most food from the ‘fingering’ shopper – If I’d have touched an item on a shop counter I would have been told off (they had shop assistants then).

Like you I am still healthy and walk my dogs 6 miles a day – cycling in London is very dangerous..