Shoppers back charges for plastic bags

Shoppers have decisively backed the idea of scrapping free plastic bags in shops to reduce the 13 billion that are handed out every year in Britain.

The support came in two online polls published after London councils voted to ban the distribution of free bags on environmental grounds.

Most of the 1,015 people surveyed by the British Market Research Bureau (BMRB) – 61 per cent – approved of shops charging for bags compared with 20 per cent who deemed it a bad idea. In a poll of 2,147 people by AC Nielsen, 84 per cent said they would not switch to a rival supermarket if their grocer removed free shopping bags.

Opposition to free plastic bags has been growing. In May, traders in the Devon town of Modbury introduced a voluntary ban, since when Hebden Bridge in West Yorkshire and more than 70 other villages and towns have called for, or are considering, a similar move.

This week all 33 councils in London voted to table private legislation to the Commons instituting a ban across the capital on the free distribution of any disposable carrier, whether plastic, paper or biodegradable.

Environmentalists are concerned that light throwaway bags are a waste of precious oil, clog up landfill and harm animals. The plastics industry says that because so many bags are reused they are environmentally friendly. Cloth and paper bags are more damaging, its representatives argue.

Both online polls were conducted before the London decision. BMRB's poll found that most people would be willing to pay for a sturdy plastic bag that would last up to 10 shopping trips. Most – 61 per cent – would be prepared to pay up to 10p, while 11 per cent would be willing to fork out 20p per bag. Most people would be willing to pay 50p for a reusable woven bag capable of lasting a year.

Shoppers said they currently reused carrier bags for a range of tasks, with the most popular being to line bins, carry shopping on further trips, and to pick up dog and cat mess. Young people aged 16-24 were most likely to reuse bags.

AC Nielsen's survey asked one question: whether shoppers would change to a different store if their current supermarket stopped giving bags away. Only 16 per cent said that they would go elsewhere. AC Nielsen's consumer insight manager, Maria Christoferson, concluded: "It suggests that retailers should have greater confidence in the success of such an initiative."

The pressure group We Are What We Do said it hoped that carrying a carrier bag would become unfashionable. It is urging shops and shoppers to make this the first "plastic bag-free Christmas". Eugenie Harvey, a co-founder of We Are What We Do, said: "Wouldn't it be great if carrying a plastic bag was as unfashionable as wearing fur this Christmas?"

BMRB's survey found a high level of opposition to people against food packaging in general, a problem highlighted by The Independent's Campaign Against Waste.

Older people who grew up with few plastic wrappers around food were most annoyed about the level of packaging in supermarkets.