The Co-op is to remove plastic “bags for life” from sale in all of its 2,600 stores, warning that the low-cost, reusable bag has become the new single-use carrier.
The bags will be phased out from today (30 April), with all remaining stock expected to be sold by the end of this summer.
Jo Whitfield, chief executive of Co-op Food, said many shoppers are regularly buying so-called bags for life to use just once, leading to a major hike in the amount of plastic being produced.
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.
The Co-op said its new initiative would remove 29.5 million bags for life, weighing around 870 tonnes of plastic, from sale each year.
It is replacing single-use bags with 10p compostable carriers to all stores to ensure that customers are able to buy a low-cost, low-impact alternative bag with a sustainable second use.
Whitfield said the retailer will be “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."
Co-op is also recommending new policies be introduced to create a greater perceived value to encourage customers to reuse them instead of treating them as single-use.
What else can be done?
Elsewhere, in England, the fee for single-use plastic shopping bags will double to 10p in May.
The Co-op has welcomed the increase, but is now calling for a policy to require major retailers to report on all reusable bags, as well as single-use bags, to provide greater transparency to track the true impact of 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 create a greater perceived value.
It is hoped these measures would encourage customers to reuse the bags, instead of treating them as single-use.
“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,” said Whitfield.
“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.”
‘Use it as a caddy liner’
Data from Greenpeace suggests that supermarkets distributed more than 1.5 billion bags for life in 2019, weighing a total of 44,913 tonnes – a 56 per cent increase on the previous year.
Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at waste and resources body Wrap, said: “All bags, regardless of the material they are made from, impact on the environment.
"Just as we all now carry a mask about ourselves, we should be doing the same with shopping bags. 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.”
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