By Iain Ferguson, Environment Manager
This year, we’re making real and significant change with our sustainability agenda with three major plastic milestones for our Co-op.
Compostable carrier bags in all our stores
Firstly, from May, we’ll finally be ranging our compostable carrier bags in all stores across the UK. We’ll no longer be manufacturing our single use carrier bags, and the cost of our compostable carrier bags will increase to 10p, in line with new government legislation.
Previously the compostable carriers were only available to stores that are in local council areas that had food waste collections, but as these are becoming more common across the country we have made the decision to make these available nationwide.
We’re also saying goodbye to Bags for Life
Since the carrier bag levy was introduced, 95% fewer single use carrier bags have been sold across the retail sector. However, there’s also been a huge increase in sales of Bags for Life. In many circumstances, customers are opting to purchase a Bag for Life over a single use carrier bag and research tells us that customers tend to use these bags as single use.
Looking at our transactions, we know that only around 1% of customers bring these bags back to recycle them for new ones. As our Bags for Life are made from thicker plastic than a conventional single use carrier bag, and therefore have a higher carbon footprint to produce, we know there is a lot more plastic going to waste and we need to address this now.
The increased charge for single use carrier bags from 5p to 10p, along with the plans for universal food waste collections across England, has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate our approach to providing carrier bags. So, once we’ve sold through existing stock at an increased cost of 20p to prevent waste, we’ll remove Bags for Life from our range.
Our compostable carrier bag, alongside the right range of reusable bags to meet our customers’ needs, gives us what we believe to be the most sustainable carrier bag offer for all our members and customers.
We’re lobbying to government to drive change
The changes we’ve outlined are just a small step in a wider conversation on sustainability and plastic. We can’t change the world alone, and that’s why we’re also calling on the government to do three things to further strengthen the existing carrier bag charge and drive change across the retail sector:
- Require all bags subject to the single use carrier bag charge to be compostable certified to BS EN 13432, at a minimum price of 10p, wherever sold.
- Require reusable bags (which are currently exempt from the carrier bag charge) to be charged at a minimum 50p price point to prevent customers using these, in effect, as single use bags.
- Require major retailers to report to Defra on the sale of all reusable bags as well as “single-use” bags to ensure that future policy development can be conducted on the basis of the complete picture.
Since the carrier bag levy was introduced in 2015, we’ve been selling 1.5 billion fewer carrier bags a year than we were in 2006. That equates to around 9,300 tonnes less single use plastic being used once and thrown away; the equivalent of 1,300 old London buses. This is an incredible example of the impact that can be had thanks to the combined action from Government and industry. We’re looking forward to continue co-operating for a fairer and more sustainable world.