The Co-op has banned plastic bags for life from all its stores.
They will be phased out from today, after it warned many shoppers were using them just once.
It will instead be extending the rollout of its certified compostable carrier bags across all stores, to ensure customers can purchase a low-cost, low-impact alternative bag with a sustainable second use.
The move comes as it publishes a new report, ‘Bag to Rights’, which sets out new policy recommendations for the government, ahead of the new carrier bag levy increase coming into force.
It urges that it goes further in the next phase of its plans and calls for a policy that requires major retailers to report on all reusable bags, as well as single-use bags, to track the true impact of the carrier bag levy.
Co-op’s other recommendations include requiring all single-use carrier bags to be certified compostable and to introduce a minimum 50p price for reusable bags to encourage customers to reuse them.
“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,” said Co-op Food CEO Jo Whitfield.
“We’re also ensuring all of our members and customers have access to a low price point option that’s more environmentally friendly, alongside more durable bags at a higher price point.
“We believe that it should be mandatory for all retailers to report on the sales of all of their reusable bags, not just single-use bags. Right now, Co-op is the only major retailer to report on all of the bags it sells.
“This policy would enable a fuller understanding on the impact of the levy and its true effect on shopping behaviours when customers are making decisions at the tills.”
The levy has so far seen sales of conventional single-use carriers reduce by 95% since 2015.
However, data from Greenpeace has indicated that in 2019, supermarkets distributed over 1.5 billion bags for life – weighing a total of 44,913 tonnes – a 56% increase from the previous year.
Bags for life use more plastic in their production than conventional single-use carriers, which has in turn increased the amount of plastic in circulation, according to the EIA. Co-op’s new initiative will remove 29.5 million bags for life, weighing around 870 tonnes of plastic, from sale each year.
Wrap strategic engagement manager Helen Bird said: “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.
“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.
“There will be times when we forget to bring a bag and in these instances we can still reuse those bags, and at the end of their life we recycle them at supermarket collection points. For Co-op’s shoppers this means that they are able to reuse carrier bags and if they have a food waste collection then they can use it as a caddy liner.”
Co-op first rolled out compostable carrier bags to over 1,000 stores in 2018. By the end of 2021, Co-op will offer:
– 10p compostable carrier
– 50p reusable medium woven carrier (following 40p introductory offer)
– 70p reusable large woven carrier
– £1 reusable foldable bag