Plastic bags

A plastic bag stuck in tree branches

Plastic bags are everywhere and everyday we are handed a countless number of them. However, plastic bags are the cause of major environmental concerns as most of them go straight to our landfill. In the UK only 1 in 200 are recycled (

Nearly every plastic bag that has ever been used, since plastic was invented, still exists somewhere, as it can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.

And it’s not only the environment that suffers; plastic bags cause a threat to wildlife, marine life and cause a local litter issue.

Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008).  A "plastic soup" of waste is floating in the Pacific Ocean and is growing at an alarming rate; it now covers an area twice the size of the continental United States, scientists have said.

In the UK we get through 8 billion plastic bags a year, that’s the equivalent of 133 per person (BBC). A reduction in our use of them is essential in solving the environmental problems they cause.

What you can do to help

The most effective way of reducing the amount of plastic litter in the environment is to reduce our consumption.

  • Reuse plastic bags to line your food waste caddy
  • Use a ‘bag for life’ instead of single use shopping bags. Around 45 per cent of shoppers claim to have bought a bag for life but only 12 per cent regularly use one. Keep your reusable bags with the shopping list to make them easier to remember
  • You could also consider an ultra compact reusable shopping bag. These fold down to a very small size, making them convenient to carry around with you
  • If you do use plastic bags, get a plastic bag dispenser for your kitchen so that you can reuse them
  • If you can't reuse them, try recycling them if you can - check whether your local supermarket has a bin for plastic bags

Key facts

  • About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute
  • Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down
  • Over 1 trillion plastic bags are used every year worldwide
  • Ten percent of the plastic produced every year worldwide ends up in the ocean