Latest figures from WRAP reveal total weight of thin plastic bags used has almost halved since 2006, despite an 8% increase in retail sales volumes.
According to the results, 40% fewer thin carrier bags were taken by customers in 2010, compared with 2006. There was also a drop in the number of carrier bag replacements, such as cotton and jute versions, as well as 'bags for life', with a total of 37% fewer bags of all types handed out in 2010 compared with 2006.
The figures did reveal a small increase in the number of bags handed out in 2010 compared with the previous 12-month period, from June 2009 to May 2010. However, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) insists this should not "be allowed to overshadow" the huge progress made by the retail sector.
The total weight of thin plastic bags has almost halved since the statistics were first collected in 2006 and the amount of new material being used is down 61%, as retailers use an increasing amount of recycled plastic in the manufacture of their carrier bags.
BRC head of environment Bob Gordon said: "It's encouraging to see the majority of consumers are continuing to reuse their carrier bags and are taking as few new bags as possible.... These figures show retailers and customers are changing their habits without the need for compulsory bans or charges. In the face of sales growth it was inevitable that year-on-year reductions would be hard to maintain and the overall numbers remain the sort of result other environmental campaigns can only dream of."
However, he added: "Retailers are pursuing much more significant environmental issues such as energy use, waste and the impact of the products people buy. An obsession with carrier bags must not get in the way of these bigger green goals."