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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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. 

Join the conversation! 12 Comments

  1. Great to see the changes being made to carrier bags, step in the right direction for sure. What are the plans around changing the way we return cardboard/waste etc to depots? Is there an alternative being looked into rather than using shrink wrap? Or is the shrink wrap used recycled in anyway?

  2. Glad to see Coop doing something about this. Working on ‘frontline’ I have noticed since Covid raised its ugly head, customers are requesting to purchase more bags & the trend to bring & re-use a bag has waned. (Perhaps they are concentrating more on remembering a mask) The charge of 5p &10p are no deterrent. So even if they purchase a couple of items, which could easily be carried, they will still ask for a bag. In my mind, the minimum charge should be 50p as this would act as more of a deterrent & maybe get customers to remember to bring & re-use a bag when shopping. I would also agree that many customers are using the ‘Bag for Life’ as a ‘one use’ bag as I see the same customers buying a ‘Bag for Life’ at every visit. Government & Retail need to re-campaign about the effects of plastic bags on the world & bring this topic back into the forefront.

  3. Fantastic news! The amount of Bags for Life that get sold in my branch alone is way too high. Hopefully by removing this option it will make people remember to bring their own bags. A campaign to remove more plastic packaging for produce would be good. There are many lines in this section that do not need to be packaged. A competitor also uses recyclable vegetable bags. Are the Coop’s bags recyclable?

    Another issue is food waste. Why can’t the Coop allow staff to buy this food which is still perfectly edible on the understanding it’s at our own risk? Our branch has recently arranged for a twice a week collection by a local charity to collect our ‘Best Before’ food which goes some way in solving this terrible waste issue. This should be happening in all stores.

  4. Will we offer alternatives to bags for life, e.g. material bags? The compostable bags are great, but they are quite small in comparison to a bag for life.

  5. I agree with Carl Williams regarding compostable bags being rejected by the local recycling scheme. I have had complaints from the customers in our store about the inability to recycle compostable bags plus they are not strong enough for heavier groceries such as drinks. I have not seen any of the stronger 50p bags in our store as of yet and look forward to receiving them. I was hoping the Coop would consider jute bags which are made from recycled paper and are 100% recyclable. I would be interested to read any feedback regarding this. I do applaud the carbon neutral goals but would like to see a reduction in unnecessary plastic packaging and an introduction of paper bags for loose fruit and veg in store.

    • We know that some councils are slow to accept our bags. Some are concerned about resident (customer) confusion. But if it works for most councils, why not them?
      The bags are just as strong as the single-use bags that we are replacing. Please feed through any complaints so that we can get them investigated. We actually run at around 1 complaint in 1 million bags at present. We can’t investigate if we don’t know the details of the problem.
      Jute bags are actually made from a plant that grows as a weed in India. We don’t use jute because it can’t be recycled. It can’t even be composted because it is lined with plastic. The reusable bags we do sell are all made from recycled plastic and can be recycled in textile banks when (if) they wear out. I’ve had mine for 5 years and still going strong.
      We are looking at loose produce, but it’s not a good time to do this at present with Covid still a problem. However, we probably wouldn’t go for paper because of its cost and high carbon footprint.

  6. I am sorry to say I do not agree… this issue was raised at least two years ago and the Co Op has been so slow in responding yet again… why did you not introduce recycled paper carrier bags and now promoting biodegradable Plastic bags ??? There is no clear policy across the stores as to what can be reduced as « damaged «  stiock to cut down on waste… I continually see a box of six eggs wasted because a single egg is broken as no team leader or manager will make the decision to mark down the remaining 5 perfectly good, in date eggs ??? Same with bananas or any other perfectly edible fruit or veg simply because the packaging or product is about to go beyond an « acceptable «  sale …. There is absolutely no consistency across Co Op stores regarding this policy amd yet it remains a constant gripe from management «  what are we doing to reduce waste «  ???

    • We have looked at using paper bags, and the main reason that we don’t use them is that they aren’t fit for purpose if it rains. I had testing done on a water-resistant paper carrier bag to see the effect of the bag standing in a puddle of water. A not unusual scenario for customers travelling on public transport, or even for customers putting their bags down on the ground while they open the boot of the car. I had asked for the bags to be jog tested (hung on a hook and bounced up and down for 8 minutes). The bags didn’t even reach the test rig because the bottoms fell out.Other issues with paper bags are that they take up a lot of resources to make, and they are really expensive.

      Please note, the bags are compostable – designed to be used as food waste caddy liners. By doing that, we encourage people to get involved with food waste collection which increases their awareness of what they waste. By getting people to use compostable liners instead of ordinary plastic bags (as used by some councils), we help to reduce conventional plastic pollution in the material spread on land at the end of the process.

  7. Always good to remove plastic, but why aren’t we switching to paper like Morrisons and Iceland?

  8. Great news with a step in the right direction. Well done Co-op. It does still really concern me though with the lack of awareness regarding recycling in general – especially reading Carl’s comment above regarding contamination and rejection, which in turn leads to more landfill. It is just such a vicious circle on such an important issue. I know some people might think it is a bit like “teaching grandmother to suck eggs”, but could we not do a Recycling Do’s and Don’ts Poster which could be used in our offices by the bins when we eventually get back into 1AS, in stores – and even rolled out to schools?

  9. Well done Coop. I love the idea of the new bags but we do have to highlight the fact that these bags cannot be recycled with normal single use plastic bags. If a compostable bag is found within a bail of normal bags they will be deemed as contaminated and rejected, making yet more plastic waste.

    We also need to tackle the issue of signal use flower buckets too. Some stores aren’t returning the reusable buckets as asked, which in turn increases the need for signal use plastics.

    Nevertheless, once again, its good to see Coop taking the lead on plastic waste.

    • Thanks for flagging the film contamination issue. The bags are clearly labelled not to recycle with plastic, but worth reminding everyone.

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