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Who is paying for my shopping bag?

17 Nov 2014


On the 20th October 2014 it became mandatory for all shops in Scotland to charge customers for single use shopping bags. It may seem an obvious waste reduction policy to you but it is duly noted that there is significant misunderstanding amongst the general public as to the reason for this new charge. News reports find that a significant number of people consider this to be a money making strategy on behalf of the supermarkets. Here are some facts to boost your shopping bag debate:


  • The Single Use Carrier Bags Charge (Scotland) Regulations 2014 has been established by Scottish Ministers and approved by Scottish Parliament in accordance with Climate Change (Scotland) Act 2009.

  • Five trillion carrier bags are produced and consumed globally each year. That’s 160,000 plastic bags per second.

  • Paper bags also have a significant negative impact on the environment. The United States cuts down 14 million trees per year to supply the demand for paper shopping bags.

  • The majority of our plastic bags are produced and printed in China, India, Thailand and Malaysia. By the time they reach the UK, they have already travelled around 8000 miles.  

  • A typical supermarket bag is used for an average of 20 minutes before it’s thrown away.

  • It is estimated that it can take from up to 1000 years for plastic bags to break down as far as possible. Harmful toxins leach into the environment during this process. They don’t biodegrade but photo-degrade in sunlight into toxic polymer particles.

  • The North Pacific Gyre, also known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, covers over 15,000,000 sq km and contains more than a million particles of plastic micro-debris in every square kilometre of ocean surface.

  • In the oceans, plastic bags and other waste are responsible for the deaths of a million sea birds and 100,000 animals such as whales, dolphins, turtles and seals, every year. In 2008, the cause of death of a sperm whale found in California was 22.2 kilos of ingested plastic.

  • In 2002, the Republic of Ireland introduced a charge of 15 euro cents (12p) per single use bag. This led to a 95% reduction in plastic bag litter and within a year, 90% of shoppers were using long-life bags.

  • Around 400 million tonnes of waste are produced in the UK every year. One of the key aims of the European Union’s Environment Action Programme is to reduce the quantity of waste going to final disposal by 50% by 2050.


Amy Ferguson


Education Officer


Image source: National Geographic

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