Co-op to remove plastic bags for life from sale as shoppers regularly use them ‘just once’

Many shoppers are regularly buying so-called bags for life to use just once (Photo: Shutterstock)Many shoppers are regularly buying so-called bags for life to use just once (Photo: Shutterstock)
Many shoppers are regularly buying so-called bags for life to use just once (Photo: Shutterstock)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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‘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.”

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister title, NationalWorld

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