WRAP publishes new figures on carrier bag use

18th July 2013

Data published today by WRAP shows that 8.1 billion thin-gauge (single-use) bags were used by supermarket customers in the UK in 2012.

This represents an increase of 1.3% compared with 2011 (8 billion), and a decrease of 34% compared with 2006 (12.2 billion), when reporting began.

The amount of thin-gauge (single-use) bags used per month by supermarket customers increased from 10.5* in 2011 to 10.7 in 2012. This still represents a decrease on the 16.7 bags per customer in the baseline year of 2006.

The overall number of bags (which include re-usable bags) issued by supermarkets in 2012 totalled 8.5 billion. This compares to 8.4 billion bags in 2011 and 12.4 billion bags in 2006. These figures represent an increase of 1.1% between 2011 and 2012, and a reduction of 32% since the baseline year of 2006.

In 2012, total carrier bags (which include re-usable bags) weighed 70,400 tonnes, compared with 72,300 tonnes in 2011, which represents a 2.6% decrease. Overall there has been a 36% decrease in the weight of carrier bags from the baseline year of 2006.

So despite the overall number of bags issued increasing between 2011 and 2012, the weight has fallen, which is due to a fall in the average weight of bags.

There has been a 50% reduction in the amount of virgin polymer used in all carrier bags between the baseline of 2006 and 2012. Between 2011 and 2012 there was a 2.4% increase in virgin polymer used in all carrier bags.

Data on carrier bags issued by supermarkets has been gathered and analysed by WRAP at the request of UK governments on an annual basis since 2006.

In 2012, retailers for the first time supplied information about front-of-store recycling of carrier bags. The results show that around 60%** of stores had recycling facilities available.

Number of thin-gauge carrier bags – breakdown by nation

 Bag (billions) % change
(2011 - 2012) 
UK7.577.988.08 +1.3%
England6.296.777.06 +4.4%
Wales0.350.270.07 –76%***
Scotland0.750.740.75 +1.1%
Northern Ireland0.170.190.19 +3.0%****

Number of bags (millions)

Thin-guage /
single-use bags
Bags for Life245280399362406416408
All bags12,41911,3469,0047,5707,9748,3928,485

Weight of bags (thousands of tonnes)

  2006 2007 2008 2009 20102011 2012 
Thin-gauge /
single-use bags 
 104.8 96.8 69.1 54.0 56.5 61.0 60.2
Bags for Life 4.9 7.9 14.3 11.6 11.8 11.2 10.2
All bags 109.8 104.7 83.4 65.6 68.3 72.3 70.4

Thin gauge bags used per capita per month

Bags per
person per
Northern Ireland8.08.68.9


*Last year’s figures for 2011 bags per capita were based on population data for 2010. The figures represented in this year’s data set are based on the new population data which takes into account population figures for 2011. The figures for 2011 bags per capita have therefore been revised to take into account the latest population data.

** Four retailers provided data for all stores, and a further two provided data for their larger-format stores only.

***On 1 October 2011 Wales introduced a charge for single use carrier bags. The data set represents the first full calendar year of reporting under that charge.

****Please note that this data relates to carrier bag use prior to the carrier bag charge being implemented across Northern Ireland. The figures are expressed to the nearest 10 million in the table. When expressed to the nearest million the 2011 figure represents 188 million bags compared to 193 million in 2012, hence the 3% rise.

Notes to editors:


Participating retailers are: Asda (including ex-Netto stores), Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s Supermarkets Ltd, Tesco and Waitrose.

WRAP’s vision is a world without waste, where resources are used sustainably. It works in partnership to help businesses, individuals and communities improve resource efficiency.
Established as a not-for-profit company in 2000, WRAP is backed by government funding from England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.

For more information on WRAP’s carrier bag data, please visit: http://www.wrap.org.uk/content/carrier-bags-reducing-their-environmental-impact


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Paul Saville

PR Manager
01295 819638

Ian Palmer

PR Officer, WRAP
01295 819 677