THE BRITISH Retail Consortium (BRC) has played down new figures that reveal carrier bag use is on the rise again.
Data released by WRAP, the Waste and Resources Action Prorgamme, shows a total of eight billion thin-gauge bags were issued in the UK in 2011, which represents a 5.4% rise compared with 2010 (7.6 billion).
The figures revealed a 22% fall in Wales, a 7.5% rise in England, an 8.1% rise in Northern Ireland and no significant change in Scotland over the same period.
The BRC said the rise represents a change in shopping patterns with more families shopping little and often, and using public transport rather than cars.
Head of environment Bob Gordon said the results were not surprising given the change in shopping trends. The bag charge in Wales also accounted for the dramatic fall in usage there.
"It's no surprise the use of a bag charge in Wales has reduced the number of bags taken by consumers there. If other governments see reducing the use of carrier bags as a priority, they will have to take a lead and go beyond voluntary measures, he said.
However, Gordon said that retailers had bigger environmental concerns on which to focus.
"Plastic bags account for a fraction of 1% of household waste and the amount of new plastic being used in today's bags is half what it was in 2006. They have a symbolic status but their impact on the environment is much smaller than other things which retailers are turning their firepower on.
For example, retailers are leading members of a new forum which will reduce the carbon footprint of thousands of everyday products, between them responsible for around 30% of global greenhouse gas emissions.