Co-ops gear up for 5p charge on carrier bags

Retail co-ops in England are preparing for the introduction of the carrier bag levy. New legislation will require English retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees to...

Retail co-ops in England are preparing for the introduction of the carrier bag levy. New legislation will require English retailers with 250 or more full-time equivalent employees to charge 5p for single-use bags from 5 October.

Ahead of the launch, Lincolnshire Co-operative gave members a free bag for life, which will be replaced for free once it wears out. The society also has a selection of bags available for £1, including an expandable bottomed bag for life, foldaway bags and a wine carrier.

Proceeds from the sale of standard carrier bags will feed into its Community Champions fund, which shares around £200,000 each year between local charities and community groups. During part of the year it will raise money specifically for environmental causes through Community Champions.

Lincolnshire Co-op’s chief retail officer, Mark Finn, said: “Reducing carrier bags has always been on our agenda. We’ve been offering members extra dividend for reusing carrier bags for a number of years, giving out a total £121,872, and we were involved in a pilot scheme in Sleaford charging for carrier bags and rewarding for reuse.

“We expect standard carrier bag usage to go down by between 70% and 80% and we hope our members take advantage of our range of reusable bags and make use of the free one they receive to start with. We’d also love to hear from any environmental groups who could benefit from our Community Champions scheme.”

Chelmsford Star Co-operative has already moved to paper bags in its department stores and will introduce new branded bags in food stores, including an extra-large reusable vest bag for 5p and a foldaway pocket bag for £1.

“Our 5p bag can carry twice as much shopping as the regular vest bags and is made using an environmental award winning renewable material from a suitable source along with fully recycled plastic,” said secretary Ellen Tredwin. “Our £1 foldaway bag is a convenient solution for our customers to carry around and is made from two recycled plastic bottles.”

Central England Co-operative’s plans will depend on the income the levy raises. “As a local community retailer, our focus will be on supporting the communities in which we trade,” its spokesperson said. “Revenue generated by the scheme will be dependent on a number of factors, including how successful the scheme is at changing consumer behaviour.”

Like Lincolnshire, Central England offered members a free large bag for life ahead of the levy, with the offer promoted on till receipts and social media.

Southern Co-operative aims to reduce single-use plastic bags by at least 50% by April 2020. Gemma Lacey, the organisation’s director of sustainability and communications, said: “Proceeds from the new levy scheme will be donated to local good causes across the south of England.

“We’re also partnering with Eastleigh Borough Council in Hampshire to give away 1,700 free cotton bags via six of our stores in the borough and some additional council venues from 5 October. Originally this was for 500 bags but with our support has been increased to enable more residents to benefit.”

A spokesperson for the Co-operative Group said that in addition to the legal requirement to charge 5p for single-use bags, it will donate profits from sales of reusable bags at its food stores, including bags for life and its new woven reusable shopping bags, to good causes. How the money will be distributed is to be confirmed.

Since the 5p charge was introduced in Scotland last October, the Group has seen an 80% reduction in carrier bag use. A £750,000 fund is expected to provide around 1,000 community organisations with grants of between £200 and £2,500. Extra contributions will be added from bag for life and woven carrier bag sales.

Groups can apply for funding online until 7 October, and in November around one million members across Scotland will be able to vote for their favourite cause.

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