Tesco bags University support following £25m donation
Photo: Girish Gupta

Tesco bags University support following £25m donation

| Dec. 2, 2009 | Manchester, England

Published by Student Direct: Mancunion

Photo: Girish Gupta

Tesco’s policy of giving away billions of plastic carrier bags for free has been lauded by a University of Manchester report which fails to recognise evidence to the contrary, just two years after a £25m donation from the supermarket giant.

The University’s Sustainable Consumption Institute (SCI) presented its report to the Royal Society last month. Contributors included senior Tesco executives who were named without reference to their links to the company.

The report cited Tesco as an example where offering incentives, such as loyalty points, for the re-use of plastic bags was “more effective than threatening penalties,” like charging for bags.

However, an Irish Environment, Heritage and Local Government report, referenced by the Manchester one, reveals that the opposite has been the case in Ireland, which saw a 90 per cent drop in plastic bag consumption when a €0.15 charge was levied per bag.

An SCI spokesman said: “The Sustainable Consumption Institute stands by the report and its conclusion.”

However, Professor Mohan Munasinghe, the report’s lead author, admitted to the Times that the discussion of the Irish information was lacking. “It would have been much fairer to give the complete set of figures so people can come to their own conclusions,” he said. “I accept the point that the conclusion has been somewhat overstated.”

The Manchester report tells of Tesco’s 50 per cent reduction on plastic bag consumption but fails to mention that this took three years to manifest itself, following the introduction of the loyalty system in August 2006.

The only mention of the Irish system in the report follows the assertion that offering incentives is the more effective means of cutting down plastic bag use. “It’s also worth noting who benefits… and who pays. In the Irish case, consumers were forced to pay, and the Government collected the money.

“In the UK loyalty points case, the supermarkets subsidised the cost of the bags, and the consumers gained a little extra money for their shopping. In other words, consumers are not stupid. If you offer them an advantage in order to change their behaviour, they will probably take it.”

Tesco has asserted that the report was entirely independent. Of the involvement of the company in the report, a spokesman said: “Of course we are going to help them with the report and provide them with the assistance they ask for.”

The SCI spokesman continued: “The conclusions of the report were made by the academic authors alone, independently of Tesco or any other outside interests. It was written by an experienced team using a series of case studies provided by Tesco and other companies to arrive at its central theme.”

Tesco offers a ‘green’ loyalty point worth roughly €0.012 per unused carrier bag. Last year, seven major supermarkets—Tesco, Asda, Sainsbury’s, Marks & Spencer, Co-op and Somerfield—signed up to an agreement promising to halve the number of single-use carrier bags by May 2009. They fell slightly short of this figure in reaching a 48 per cent reduction.

Wales is following Ireland’s lead in introducing a compulsory charge for plastic bags early next year. “Ikea and Marks & Spencer already charge for bags and they have seen reductions of between 80 and 90 per cent,” Jane Davidson, Welsh Environment Minister, told the Times.

This is not the first time Tesco has been associated with fiddled statistics. In August, the supermarket was found guilty of using bogus figures to demonstrate a “need and demand” for a new branch in Essex. However, the telephone poll used to back up the data showed that only 8.6 per cent of those asked wanted a new supermarket, with only just over half of those wanting a Tesco.