Single-use shopping bags reduced by two-thirds

Belgian Federation of Distributors exceeds target by a wide margin

A campaign launched by the Belgian federation of retailers (Comeos) in 2003 aimed at changing consumer behaviour. The campaign set itself the task of reducing usage of single-use plastic shopping bags. Thanks to the joint efforts of all actors in the distribution sector, usage reduced by 67% in just four years. Many consumers now use reusable bags, boxes, and baskets instead..


The campaign launched by Comeos was dubbed ‘My reusable bag and I, we are inseparable’. Member companies of Comeos committed to reducing the number of single-use shopping bags by 25% between 2003 and 2006 as part of their prevention plan. They also aimed to double the use of reusable alternatives.


Results beyond expectations

The outcome of this campaign is extremely gratifying given the fact that the initial targets were vastly exceeded. Between 2003 and 2007, the use of re-usable alternatives increased six-fold while the number of distributed single-use bags dropped by 67%. In total, some 3,500 tons of plastic were saved during these four years as a result of this campaign. 

Actively promoting alternatives 

What is the reason for this success? The actions implemented by the distribution sector focused on four points: 

  • OFFER ALTERNATIVES TO CUSTOMERS. These alternatives have appeared in various formats: reusable plastic bags, canvas bags for bottles, reusable boxes, foldable boxes, reusable thermal bags, cooling boxes, and caddies.
  • ACTIVELY PROMOTE THESE ALTERNATIVES through free distribution, additional loyalty points, or increased advertising and visibility, among other approaches.
  • LIMIT THE AVAILABILITY OF SINGLE-USE BAGS. Certain shops have eliminated these bags altogether. Others have voluntarily placed them out of sight or now charge for single-use bags.
  • INFORM MEMBERS OF STAFF about the use and prevention of plastic bags. 

Good to remember

  • Comeos initiated the campaign ‘My reusable bag and I, we are inseparable’ which has reduced the number of
    single-use shopping bags by 67%.
  • Consumers adapted gradually to reusable alternatives such as canvas bags and foldable boxes.
  • Given the success of the campaign, Comeos subsequently launched a new action that continued through 2009.


Adopting new habits

Although the campaign was eventually successful, it took some time for consumers to adapt their habits. Initially, consumers often forgot to bring along the alternative  bags that they had purchased during previous visits to a shop. A substantial reduction in the number of single-use bags was observed only after several months. In other words, the information stage was followed by a learning phase before the new habit was gradually adopted.

By lowering the consumption of single-use shopping bags, 3.500 tons of plastic were saved between 2003 and 2007.

Supermarkets account for bulk of the effort

The bulk of the success can be credited to supermarkets. Previously, they were responsible forthe distribution of 92,4% of all free single-use shopping bags. In this sector, trips to make purchases are often planned beforehand, which makes it easier for consumers to bring along an alternative solution to single-use bags. However, there are certain obvious limitations in the food sector. Products such as meat and fish, for instance, require single-use plastic bags to ensure proper hygiene. The reduction target defined in 2004 was also achieved by the non-food sector, even though fewer alternatives were available.


For additional information: Belgian Federation of Distributors (Comeos): tel.: 02 788 05 00 - -



Packaging that discourages shoplifting


Securing products through visible and invisible means

Packaging plays an increasingly important role in fighting shoplifting. Each year, the distribution sector loses 1.25% of its turnover to shoplifters. That is enough to warrant investment in more secure types of packaging that integrate modern technologies. Visible and invisible innovations make life increasingly difficult for thieves.

A hundred shoplifters a day

Every year, shops catch about 35.000 shoplifters in Belgium and Luxembourg. In 2007, these thefts accounted for a shortfall in earnings of 656 million euros, which represents more than one percent of the distribution sector’s turnover. On top of that, shop owners spend over 200 million euros a year to fight shoplifting. In total, the cost of shoplifting for the sector exceeds 800 million euros annually. This cost eats into the profit margin of shops and in most cases is passed onto consumers through increased prices. A British study carried out by Check Point Europe reveals some details. Customers account for 65% of the thefts. Shop personnel are guilty in 31% of the cases. In addition, 4% of thefts are committed by external collaborators — particularly supplier staff who have access to commercial infrastructures.

The deterrent role of packaging

Packaging plays an important role in fighting shoplifting. Certain types of packaging, such as blisters, intentionally make it difficult to open. This avoids the product being easily removed from its packaging in the store or warehouse. Other types of packaging are excessively large compared to the size of the actual product in order to make their theft easier to notice. To help prevent theft by staff, certain suppliers wrap their pallets in black film to make the products less visible.


Good to remember

  • Shoplifted products cost the European distribution sector almost 30 billion euros a year. They cost the sector in Belgium and Luxembourg over 800 million euros. This cost is passed onto consumers one way or another.
  • Two thirds of the thefts are carried out by customers, another third by shop personnel
  • Packaging can deter thefts (blisters that are difficult to open, oversized packaging, et cetera). Some shops use reusable cases that are removed by the cashier.
  • The distribution sector is investing in invisible safety systems (such as RFID). These enable a reduction in certain packaging elements previously dedicated to fighting shoplifting


Most stolen products in European retail stores

In Europe, shoplifters primarily target expensive goods, and brands.


Technology that secures at the source

An even more efficient system is to integrate a form of technological security into the packaging. The manufacturer integrates a protective element, such as a chip or a sticker, during the packaging process. This invisible device is impossible to remove and generates an alarm at the exit of a shop if it is not scanned at the cashier. These new ‘microscopic’ technologies enable the reduction of certain packaging elements previously used to fight shoplifting. The distribution sector and security companies are currently preparing a joint action plan and recommendations to spread this technology. The target is to achieve a wide deployment of this type of protection, particularly for products that are most subject to shoplifting.

Developing electronic surveillance

European retailers continue to look for new integrated security methods to fight shoplifting. In 2006, they invested around 8 billion euros in the development of secure solutions. There is indeed a direct relation between increased investments in protection and reduced financial losses related to theft. The use of Electric Article Surveillance (EAS) is developing rapidly. Such devices are installed by the supplier to protect a product at all stages of the distribution chain. Radio Frequency Identification (RFID), which is invisible to consumers, is one example of EAS.


For additional informations: