The switch, which the supermarket chain claims will eliminate around 60 million single-use bags from its annual plastic footprint, comes after trials across 22 Co-op stores in Greater Manchester proved successful earlier this year.

As with the trials, the phase-out will see the supermarket’s single-use 5p carrier bags replaced with plant-based alternatives, which customers will also be charged 5p for.

Once they have been used to carry groceries, the Co-op recommends that customers use the bags to line their food waste recycling caddies. The bags have been designed to decompose into peat-free compost along with household food waste collections and to degrade in home composting systems, according to the Co-op’s environment manager Iain Ferguson.

“Reducing environmental impacts is, and always has been, at the core of Co-op’s efforts,” Ferguson said.

“The bags are carefully designed to help local authorities with food waste recycling, supporting their community and resident engagement while reducing plastic contamination in a targeted way.”

The phase-out has been welcomed by WRAP, with the organisation’s chief executive Marcus Gover praising it as an “innovative way to tackle plastic pollution”.

“I’m pleased to see this reflected in the Co-op’s approach to its compostable carrier bag initiative by carefully designing an approach that aligns with existing local collection systems,” Gover said.

“By everyone moving in the right direction, we can transform the plastic system in the UK and keep plastic in the economy and out of the environment.”

A recipe for sustainability

The phase-out forms part of the Co-op’s commitment to making all of its own-brand packaging “easy to recycle” by 2023, as laid out in its ‘the future of food: a recipe for sustainability’ strategy.

The pledge notably includes goals of removing all hard-to-recycle black plastic from own-brand lines by 2020 and ensuring plastic bottles, pots, trays and punnets consist of 50% recycled content by 2021.

Since the launch of the strategy, the Co-op has worked to make three-quarters of the packaging items it produces “widely recyclable”, with these items accounting for 95% of the chain’s total plastic waste output by weight.

The retailer has also increased the amount of post-consumer recycled (PCR) content in its own-brand water bottles to 50% – a move Ferguson estimates will eliminate the use of 350 tonnes of virgin plastic each year.

“We face huge global challenges and our ethical strategy sets out a recipe for sustainability to source responsibly, treat people with fairness and produce products which have minimal impact on our planet,” Ferguson added.

“However, we can’t do it alone and co-operation is key to our plan. We welcome measures designed to make recycling simpler and more accessible for consumers, which bring together supply and waste value chains to achieve a more circular economy.”

edie recently interviewed Ferguson to garner his insight on why the Co-op has chosen not to sign up to WRAP’s UK Plastic Pact. You can read that article in full here.

Sarah George

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