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Key departmental publications, e.g. annual reports, budget papers and program guidelines are available in our online archive.

Much of the material listed on these archived web pages has been superseded, or served a particular purpose at a particular time. It may contain references to activities or policies that have no current application. Many archived documents may link to web pages that have moved or no longer exist, or may refer to other documents that are no longer available.

Plastic retail carry bag use 2002 – 2004 consumption

Final report
NOLAN-ITU Pty Ltd for the
Department of the Environment and Heritage, March 2005


3. Retailer use

3.1 Retail Sector Plastic Bag Consumption

Provided in Table 3.1 below are estimates for HDPE plastic bag consumption on a sector basis. These estimates are based upon the views of bag manufacturers and importers, and are indicative figures only. There is not currently any direct measurement of plastic bag consumption across all sectors on a sector-by-sector basis. The values for 2004 plastic bag consumption have been estimated as based upon 2002 sector consumption figures, and percentage changes in sector consumption values, as provided by industry. As such the 2004 HDPE plastic bag consumption value, and the overall percentage change in consumption, are both slightly different from the values stated in Table 2.4.

Table 3.1: Estimated 2002 & 2004 HDPE Bag Consumption by Sector
Retail Sector 2002 Bag Consumption (billions) 2004 Bag Consumption (billions) Change (%)
Supermarkets 3.64 2.73 -25%
Other Food & Liquor 0.92 0.81 -12%
General Merchandise & Apparel 0.58 0.53 -10%
Fast Food, Conven. & Serv. Station 0.35 0.31 -10%
Other Retail 0.46 0.39 -15%
Total 5.95 4.77 -21%

3.2 Supermarkets

There is currently no government or industry body collecting data on retail carry bag use. Therefore it is not possible to accurately measure use across the vast retail sector. The ARA developed a Code for the Management of Plastic Bags in response the EPHC challenge to industry. The ARA Code requires signatories who are Group One retailers (major and smaller supermarket chains) to provide audited data on bag usage to the ARA. This enables the ARA to report on progress in bag usage reduction on a six-monthly basis. The ARA issued reports on the Code in February 2004 and again in mid-2004. It has recently (March, 2005) produced its report on progress in meeting the EPHC objectives, including the 25% reduction in bag usage by December 2004.

In its latest report, the ARA has indicated that bag usage in major supermarkets has declined over the past two years. The stated decline was a reduction in the annualised rate of HDPE bags issued at 31 December 2004 of 26.9%. The 26.9% figure did not take account of some supermarket chains that were unable to provide audited data due to their structure, where stores are managed independently and data is not reported consistently across the group.

Similarly the 26.9% annualised reduction does not reflect activity in Group Two retailers (all retailers using lightweight HDPE retail carry bags other than major, minor or independent supermarkets), where the code does not require audited data be provided and most signatories have not reported on bag usage. The ARA report on activity to December 2004 covers most Group One retailers but not Group Two retailers.

Under the methodology used by the ARA, the annualised rate of HDPE bags issued takes account of the rate of store growth. Therefore the 26.9% reduction reflects an adjustment for store growth. This rate of store growth is not published. It is acknowledged that the retail sector is in a state of growth and it could be argued that bag reduction efforts need to be seen in this context. The EPHC objective for 25% reduction by December 2004 does not, however, take account of the growth of stores. It is a target for 25% bag reduction overall.

Retail growth can occur and be measured in several ways:

As bag usage is more closely aligned to the number of items purchased, the growth in these is probably a more appropriate factor to be used in bag usage calculations. There are key differences between the objective and the ARA published results on bag usage reduction. These are:

  1. The ARA data relates to only some retailers (coverage is probably 50-60% of total bag usage).
  2. The ARA data is adjusted for store growth.
  3. Some bag usage numbers reported may relate to bag orders rather than bag usage and may be calculated using December month data only. This calculation method may not give an accurate reflection of annual bag usage.

3.3 Other Retail Sectors

In order to gain a perspective on bag usage across all other retail sectors, Nolan-ITU conducted a survey of companies across a range of retail sectors. The survey was conducted in January 2005 and sought information on bag usage by the retailer over the past three years. The survey comprised a sample of 80 leading companies. Many retailers were unable or unwilling to provide information on bag usage. However responses were received from 20 companies in the following sectors.

These companies provided data on bag usage with companies also indicating the reasons for any increase or decrease in bag usage.

The key findings of the survey were:

Several retailers and bag suppliers observed that the ability to significantly reduce bag usage is more easily achieved in some retail areas than others. For example video rental outlets, bookshops, newsagents, pharmacies and music shops have a higher degree of one or two item transactions where a bag can more practically be avoided. Conversely, department stores and food outlets have more items per transaction and therefore less ability to eliminate a bag from a transaction. Reductions in these stores can come from more efficient use of bags or consumers supplying their own bag. The survey found the use of reusable bags was stated to be lower in other retail sectors than in supermarkets.

Bag manufacturers and importers reported that some of their retailer customers have achieved a reduction of 50% or more in bag usage while others had experienced no bag reduction. The inability of many retailers to report on bag usage, combined with the low level of signatories by Group Two ARA members to the plastic bag code, indicates many retailers are not actively pursuing bag reduction at the level that the major supermarkets have.

As non-supermarket retail outlets account for an estimated 50% of HDPE bag use, the efforts of all retail sectors will be crucial to achieving a further significant reduction in bag use.