Co-op Group to remove plastic bags for life from all stores

The retailer will also roll out its compostable carriers to all its stores

The Co-op Group is removing plastic bags for life from sale in all 2,600 of its stores, as it publishes a new report, Bag to Rights, which sets out new policy recommendations for government. 

As part of this move, and ahead of the coming hike in the carrier bag levy, the convenience retailer will also roll out compostable carriers to all stores to ensure that customers are able to purchase a low-cost, low impact alternative bag with a sustainable second use.  

The Group hailed the introduction of the carrier bag charge in 2015 and has welcomed the rise in the fee to 10p. It now wants the government to go further by requiring 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. 

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 to encourage customers to reuse them instead of treating them as single-use.

The levy has brought a 95% reduction in single use carriers since its introduction in 2015, but data from Greenpeace shows that in 2019, supermarkets distributed over 1.5 billion bags for life – weighing a total of 44,913 tonnes – up 56% on 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. Co-op’s new initiative will remove 29.5 million bags for life, weighing around 870 tonnes of plastic, from sale each year.  

The convenience retailer is now looking to work with more food retailers to adopt a balanced and joined-up approach to their carrier bag offer. Co-op’s approach involves removing bags for life from sale, rolling out compostable bags for 10p and setting the price of its lowest cost reusable bag at 50p. This approach is aimed at embedding real reuse of bags in the retail setting.

Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food, said: “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. 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 Group became the first retailer to make compostable carrier bags widely available when it rolled them out to over 1,000 stores in 2018. The bags are certified compostable and are used as food waste caddy liners in the home and collected as part of local authority household food waste collections.  

The bags, which also suitable for use in home-compost bins, have since been offered to other retailers in Greater Manchester and adopted by independent retail societies including Midcounties and Southern Co-operative.

The Group – which removed plastic stems from cotton buds before any other retailer 14 years ago, banned microbeads and removed all hard to recycle black and dark plastic from its shelves – says it is on track to make all of its own-brand packaging easily recyclable this year.