Co-op has said today it will remove plastic ‘bags for life’ from sale in all its 2,600 stores across the UK, arguing that the low-cost, reusable bag has become the new single-use carrier in terms of its negative impact on the environment.
The retailer will roll out compostable carriers to its shop estate instead, saying it presents a low-cost, low-impact packaging option with a sustainable second use.
Today’s move comes as it launches ‘Bag to Rights’, an agenda which sets out new policy recommendations for government. It also comes as the carrier bag levy is increasing across many parts of the UK in May.
Co-op is calling on major retailers to report on all reusable bags, as well as single-use bags, to help track the true impact of carrier bag levy. It also recommends requiring all single-use carrier bags to be certified compostable and to introduce a minimum 50p price for reusable bags to create a greater perceived value.
As part of the new campaign, Co-op praised what it views as the success of the levy’s ability to reduce the sale of conventional single use carriers significantly. There has been a 95% reduction since the tax on bags was introduced in 2015.
However, citing Greenpeace data, the retailer argued that in 2019 alone, supermarkets distributed over 1.5 billion bags for life – weighing a total of 44,913 tonnes – which represented a 56% year on year.
The convenience retailer also said it wants to work with more food retailers to adopt a balanced and joined-up approach to the carrier bag offering in the UK.
Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food, said: “Increased use of bags for life has led to a sharp rise in plastic use.
“With over 1.5 billion bags sold each year by retailers, this remains a massive issue for our industry as many shoppers are regularly buying so called ‘bags for life’ to use just once and it’s leading to major hike in the amount of plastic being produced.”
She added: “To help tackle plastic pollution and the use of unnecessary plastic, we will be ceasing the sale of bags for life when current stocks are exhausted.”
Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at waste reduction charity Wrap, remarked: “All bags, regardless of the material they are made from, impact on the environment.
“The most important thing to reduce this impact is reuse. Just as we all now carry a mask about ourselves, we should be doing the same with shopping bags.”
She continued: “Supermarkets have a responsibility to incentivise this and we would like to see transparent reporting on all types of shopping bags – whether they are made of traditional plastic, compostable plastic or paper.”
Co-op said the compostable bags can be used by consumers for their food waste at home. Many councils across the UK provide regular food waste collections, and people are encouraged to use the supermarket’s bags during this process.
Fellow grocer Aldi also distributes compostable bags, specifically with its click & collect orders in the UK.
[Image credit: Co-op]