Retailers report 83% reduction in plastic bags

Today (21 July) DEFRA has reported that the 7 main retailers issued 83% fewer bags in 2016 to 2017 compared to the calendar year 2014.

This works out as over six billion fewer bags than was recorded in 2014 by the Waste & Resources Action Programme – WRAP – reported data.

According to today’s announcement, the reduction is equivalent to each person in the population using around 25 bags during 2016 to 2017, compared to around 140 bags a year before the charge.

WRAP previously reported information on carrier bag use based on a voluntary agreement with 7 major retailers (Asda, The Co-operative Group, Marks & Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Waitrose). Its data for 2014 showed that these retailers issued 7.6 billion single-use plastic carrier bags in England during that calendar year.


DEFRA found that large retailers in England sold 2.1 billion single-use plastic carrier bags during the year from 7 April 2016 to 6 April 2017. However, during the first 6 months in 2015 to 2016 they sold 1.1 billion single-use carrier bags.

Single use bags totalled 2.1 billion in 2015/16

According to the data, the 7 main retailers (Asda, Marks and Spencer’s, Sainsbury, Tesco, The Co-operative Group, Waitrose and Morrisons) sold around 1.3 billion single-use plastic carrier bags. And, in the initial 6-month period in 2015 to 2016, they sold 0.6 billion single-use plastic carrier bags.

It is noted, of the retailers that provided data in 2015 to 2016, 13 (5%) have now changed to using either paper bags or re-useable bags and are no longer required to report on the number of bags used. They had previously reported sales that accounted for 0.2% of the total number single-use plastic carrier bags in the 6-month reporting period for 2015 to 2016.


As well as a reduction in the number of bags, the report found that of the 168 retailers which provided data for donations made to good causes, over £66 million was donated, amounting to 4 pence for every single-use bag sold by them. Almost two-thirds of retailers voluntarily provided this additional information.

Among the charities to benefit from the bag donations was the resource management charity WRAP.

Since 5 October 2015, large retailers in England have been required by law to charge 5p for all single-use plastic carrier bags. They are also required to report certain information to Defra. Other information on donations is provided on a voluntary basis.

A total of 261 retailers reported data on the number of single-use plastic carrier bags sold in 2016 to 2017, compared to the 285 retailers for the six month period in 2015 to 2016.

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