From 28 August, Tesco shoppers who forget to bring their own bags will be able to purchase the thicker re-usable bag for life, the sales of which will be passed on to fund community projects across the country.

The move follows a 10-week trial undertaken by Tesco stores in Aberdeen, Dundee and Norwich to test how customers would manage without the 5p bag option. Sales of bags in the trial stores were reduced by 25%, with customers instead bringing their own bags or opting for a bag for life, which is replaced for free if damaged.

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Online Tesco shoppers will still be able to opt for single-use carrier bags for their shopping or can select a bagless delivery, which 57% of the supermarket’s online customer base is now doing.

Tesco UK and Republic of Ireland chief executive Matt Davies said: “The number of bags being bought by our customers has already reduced dramatically. Today’s move will help our customers use even fewer bags but ensure that those sold in our stores continue to fund thousands of community projects across the country chosen by customers.

“It’s the right thing to do for the environment and for local communities.”

Necessary switch

The announcement by Tesco has been welcomed by the UK’s Environment Minister Thérèse Coffey, who said: “Since we introduced the 5p charge in 2015, the number of single-use plastic bags taken home has plummeted by 83%.

“I welcome Tesco wanting to go further and help their customers use even fewer plastic bags. The switch to a ‘bag for life’ will continue to help reduce litter and boost recycling – helping to leave the environment in a better state than we found it.”

Tesco has given out 1.5 billion fewer single use bags since the introduction of the carrier bag charge in England in 2015 and the company has been by far and away the largest donator of net proceeds from the charge, with more than £33m donated to 6,400+ local community projects through Tesco’s Bags of Help scheme to date.

However, the fact remains that Tesco is by far the biggest seller of single-use plastic bags – on an annual basis, Tesco sells almost as much single-use bags as the other six major retailers combined (637.2 million versus 690.3 million), hence today’s decision to scrap single-use bags entirely.

Tesco joins the UK’s second-largest supermarket group Sainsbury’s and German discount retailer Lidl in scrapping the sale of single-use carrier bags in favour of thicker variants. Both Sainsbury’s and Lidl have chosen to sell thicker, re-usable bags for a charge 5p, wheras Tesco’s ‘bag for life’ is priced at 10p. As all of these alternative bags are more than 0.07mm thick, they fall outside of the plastic bag charge, meaning they will not be reported in annual carrier bag charge figures published by Defra.

Behaviour change

Morrisons, Asda, Co-op, M&S and Waitrose continue to sell single-use carrier bags that are under the 0.07mm threshold, with all charging 5p. Together, the seven major retailers sold 83% fewer single-use plastic bags in 2016 compared with 2014, before the 5p charge was introduced.

It is anticipated that the move towards thicker bags will encourage more Tesco shoppers to bring previously-used bags back into stores rather than continually purchasing new ones. This has been seen by Sainsbury’s, with a spokesperson for the group recently telling edie that it has seen an 80% year-on-year reduction in the total number of carrier bags issued to customers in 2015-16 – from 25 million to five million per week.

However, it still appears to be a case of ‘old habits die hard’ for some shoppers: a recent survey of 2,000 UK consumers revealed that 62% are still routinely paying 5p for plastic bags, rather than bringing their own.

Tesco has also announced today that it is also ceasing the sale of single-use wine carriers, and lowering the price of its ‘carry me bottle bag’ from £1 to 40p.

Luke Nicholls

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