The number of plastic carrier bags used across the UK has dropped from 8.5 billion to 1.1 billion over the last two years, according to latest data from IRI market intelligence.

The introduction of the 5p carrier bag levy saw sales of plastic single use bags increase from 138 million units (52 weeks to 12 Oct 2015) to 1.1 billion (52 weeks to 10 Oct 2016), an additional 985 million bags, but marking a significant drop from the 8.5 billion bags reportedly given away free by supermarkets in England, Scotland and Wales in 2014.

According to the latest figures, the government’s target to reduce the number of plastic bags used in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland by 80% has now been surpassed.

The number of shopping bags overall, including ‘bags for life’, increased from 258 million to 1.7 billion, an additional 1.4 billion bags. Supermarket value sales of plastic and fabric shopping bags increased from £50m to £147m, with much of this additional £97m of revenue going to charity. The biggest growth came from woven bags, which sold an additional 431m bags.  

Sales of bin liners rose following the bag levy, up from £156m to £169m in value sales, a rise of 8.25%, and up 11.3% in volume sales to 90m packs (52 weeks to 1 October 2016). 

Martin Wood, IRI’s head of strategic insight for retail, said: “The total of 1.1 billion single use bags in 2015/16 is just 13.2% of the 8.5bn figure, so close to a 90% drop, which is astonishing. 

“The correlating growth in the bin liner category suggests that some people who previously used free plastic bags for collecting and disposing of their rubbish are now having to buy bin liners instead.”