Co-op has announced it will no longer sell plastic ‘bags-for-life’, rolling out a compostable carrier bag alternative to all of its stores.

The retailer said it has introduced the 10p compostable carriers to its 2,600 stores to “ensure that customers are able to purchase a low-cost, low-impact bag with a sustainable second use”, warning that the low-cost, reusable plastic ‘bag-for-life’ has become the new single-use carrier.

Co-op’s eco-friendly carrier bags are certified compostable, and suitable for a secondary use as a food waste caddy liner in the home or for use in home-compost bins — they’re also collected as part of Local Authority household food waste collections.

“Increased use of Bags for Life has led to a sharp rise in plastic use — with over 1.5 billion bags sold each year by retailers, this remains a massive issue for our industry as many shoppers are regularly buying so called ‘Bags for Life’ to use just once and it’s leading to major hike in the amount of plastic being produced,” explained Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food.

“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.”

Alongside removing ‘bags-for-life’ from sale and rolling out its 10p compostable bags, Co-op has also set the price of its lowest cost reusable bag at 50p, which is “aimed at embedding real reuse of bags in the retail setting”.

In its new report ‘Bag to Rights’, Co-op said it welcomed the UK government’s recent raise of the single-use carrier bag charge to 10p, but urges them to go further and create a policy that requires 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.

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, to encourage customers to reuse them 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,” added Jo.

“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.”

“All bags, regardless of the material they are made from, impact on the environment,” added Helen Bird, strategic engagement manager at the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP).

“The most important thing to reduce this impact is reuse. Just as we all now carry a mask about ourselves, we should be doing the same with shopping bags.

“Supermarkets have a responsibility to incentivise this and we would like to see transparent reporting on all types of shopping bags — whether they are made of traditional plastic, compostable plastic or paper.

“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.”