Co-op switches to compostable bags as it pledges to eliminate single-use plastics

The Co-op has revealed it will swap around 60 million plastic carrier bags with compostable alternatives that can be used as food waste caddy liners, as part of a wider goal to "remove" single-use plastics from its product offerings.

The Co-op will roll out the compostable bags to almost 1,400 stores across England, Scotland and Wales, primarily at locations where the certified carrier bags are accepted as part of food waste collections.

The introduction of compostable bags forms part of a wider blueprint to phase-out single-use plastics for own-brand products and reduce overall levels of plastic packaging within five years. A key part of this ambition is to eliminate hard-to-recycle materials such as black plastics.

The Co-op’s retail chief executive, Jo Whitfield, said: “The price of food wrapped in plastic has become too much to swallow and, from today, the Co-op will phase out any packaging which cannot be reused.

“The first step to remove single-use plastic, will be to launch compostable carrier bags in our stores. They are a simple but ingenious way to provide an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic shopping bags.”

The Co-op’s plastics pledge will see all own-brand packaging become easily recyclable by 2023, while plastic bottles, pots, trays and punnets will consist of 50% recycled content by 2021. All own-brand black plastics – which traditionally can’t be detected for separation at recycling facilities – will be removed by 2020.

According to the retailer, the phase-outs and carrier bags replacements will see the equivalent of 125 million plastic bottles removed from production. Almost three-quarters of The Co-op’s products are widely recyclable.

The plastics phase-out forms a key pillar of a new “ethical strategy” that will also focus on cutting food waste and lowering emissions from energy use. A new report will be released on Thursday (27 September) to set out the vision, which is aligned with the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“Our ban on single-use plastic is central to our new ethical blueprint,” Whitfield added. “The Co-op was founded on righting wrongs, and we first campaigned to stop food fraud. Now we face huge global challenges and have created a recipe for sustainability to source responsibly, treat people with fairness and produce products which have minimal impact on the planet. We can’t do it alone, which is why partnerships are key to our plan.”

Consumer attitudes

In related news, recycling firm Viridor has today (24 September) announced the findings of a survey of more than 1,800 members of the UK public on attitudes towards plastics recycling.

The survey found that less than half (45%) were willing to pay additional tax on non-recyclable plastics – despite an increased rate of tax on hard-to-recycle materials receiving “noteworthy public support” during a three-month consultation earlier this year.

The survey also noted that 51% of the UK public feel businesses are responsible for recycling, but less than 10% trust businesses to ensure that waste can be recycled efficiently.

Viridor’s managing director, Phil Piddington, said: “Public concern over the environmental impact of plastics continues to gain momentum in the UK, in parallel to a broader awareness of the importance of recycling generally. 

“The 2018 Index shows that not only are people increasingly confused over what and how they can recycle, they’re also becoming less confident that businesses or government are playing their respective roles in ensuring resources are given new life.”

Matt Mace

Comments (1)

  1. Ken Pollock says:

    According to the manager of the Agrivert AD installation in Oxfordshire that takes all their food waste, compostable food bags are WORSE for them than conventional ones. Maybe the Coop ought to ask them first…

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