Amount of Plastic Bags Found on UK Beaches Decreases By 40%

  • Team BIDBI
  • 24th November 2016

The amount of plastic bags found on UK beaches has fallen by 40% over the past year. The stats were published in the Marine Conservation Society’s newly-released ‘2016 Great British Beach Clean’ report.

Lauren Eyles, MCS Beachwatch Manager, said:

“In the last decade, our Great British Beach Clean volunteers have found an average of ten single use carrier bags for every 100 metres of coastline cleaned. This year, for the first time since the charges were introduced, we’ve seen a significant drop in the number and that can only be as a result of the 5p charge which is now in place in all the home nations.

"It vindicates the charge, which we predicted would be good news for the marine environment. Thanks to our thousands of fantastic volunteers who collect beach litter data, we can now see the impact these charges have had.”

The survey was made possible thanks to the dedicated work of around 6,000 volunteers, who cleaned 364 beaches throughout the UK. As they did this, they recorded the litter they found:

  • Just under seven bags were found per every 100 metres of coastline cleared – down from the 11 bags found in 2015.
  • The amount of bags found was the lowest number in a decade.
  • The amount of drinks containers, bottle caps and lids found increased by 4% from the previous year.

Work Still To Be Done

The results of the survey certainly show a marked improvement with regards to the waste on our beaches. Yet the damage to the environment caused by plastic bags is still very much an issue.

Thankfully, the plastic bag tax is at least improving things – and it’s not just the beaches where the effects are being seen.

How Things Have Improved

So just how much difference has the plastic bag tax made?

Quite a lot, based upon the most recent statistics. These were revealed in a press release in July this year, which was published on the Government’s website.

The press release brought to light single-use plastic bag figures in England, collated between 5th October 2015 and 6th April 2016.

These were revealed in a report from the Department of Environment, Food & Affairs (DEFRA). Key takeaways included:

  • In 2014, more than 7 billion carrier bags were issued by the seven main retailers (Asda, Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Tesco and Waitrose).
  • This figure fell to around 500 million during the first six months following the plastic bag tax. If the stats follow a similar trajectory for the second half of the year, then the total usage stats will have dropped by 6 billion YOY.
  • The plastic bag tax has led to more than £29 million charitable donations from retailers.

Important to Remember All the Other Retailers

Despite the positives, it’s important to remember that these figures will be much higher when all the other retailers are considered too – not just the main seven. Logic at least dictates that similar scales of falls will have taken place elsewhere.

We did submit a FOI to DEFRA request prior to the creation of this article, to try and gain access to more recent/expansive statistics. Unfortunately, the response included the following information, which simply referred us to the stats published in July’s press release:

“We are writing to advise you that Defra does not hold monthly carrier bag usage statistics. The exception at regulation 12(4)(a) of the EIRs, which relates to information which is not held at the time when an applicant’s request is received, therefore applies to information you have requested.”

“Retailers are required to report the next set of data covering the reporting period 7 April 2016 – 6 April 2017 by 31 May 2017. This data must be published on or before 31 July 2017.”

Why Things Are Still Far From Perfect

It’s easy to point to the progress that’s been made - and feel like the job is all but complete - but in reality, there’s still much work to be done.

Unfortunately, many countries are still to introduce a tax on single-use plastic bags. Others are simply unable to cope with the costs of an alternative solution.

Another problem lies in consumer habits – and changing these can be extremely challenging. For some, paying the 5p tax hasn’t prevented them from using the same amount of single-use plastic bags as they once were.

The Problem With ‘Bags for Life’

For others, so-called ‘bags for life’ being offered in supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s aren’t seeing the use of plastic cut out completely. In many cases, the ‘longer-lasting’ plastic bags are prone to tear and they can be rendered useless after a few outings.

There are issues for business owners too. Companies that have traditionally relied on plastic bags to satisfy consumers – such as convenience stores – still remain resistant to cutting out the use of the product. For them, the potential loss of custom caused by client dissatisfaction is too great.

In all cases, there are answers – and one of them is our specialty here at BIDBI.

Making Eco Tote Bags the Answer

Our eco tote-bags are continuing to fill the void left behind by plastic bags. Vitally, they’re also presenting a far more environmentally-friendly solution than the plastic ‘bags for life’ offered in supermarkets.

On-trend, stylish and eco-friendly, there is much to love about our products. They’re sturdy, durable and capable of easily supporting reasonable loads of shopping.

Given that people are always going to use some form of bag to carry items, our products are by far and away a superior solution to the issue of plastic bag use.