The Co-op has announced it will replace single-use plastic bags with a biodegradable alternative across 1,400 of its stores.
The new compostable carrier bags can be used to carry shopping home and then be re-used as food waste caddy liners, it will initially be rolled out in towns, cities and villages where the bags are accepted in food waste collections.
The move is part of a new ethical strategy to be launched later this week by the Co-op, which will tackle plastic pollution as well as food waste, healthy eating, saving energy and trading fairly.
The strategy will see the company ban single-use own brand plastic products and reduce its overall use of plastic packaging within five years. It has also promised to stop using hard to recycle materials, like black plastic.
The Co-op’s pledge on plastic will see all its own brand packaging become easy to recycle by 2023. It has also promised to use a minimum of 50% recycled plastic in bottles, pots, trays and punnets by 2021. All own brand black and dark plastic packaging, including black ready meal trays, will be eliminated by 2020.
Jo Whitfield, retail chief executive, Co-op, 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. Our ban on single-use plastic is central to our new ethical blueprint.”
She 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.”
However environmental group Friends of the Earth said that while it is always “happy to hear about large companies stepping up and joining the fight” compostable plastics are not the “silver bullet” to stop pollution.
Emma Priestland, plastic campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “We’re always happy to hear about large companies, especially supermarkets, stepping up and joining the fight against single-use plastic. However, compostable plastics are not the silver bullet they are often made out to be, as they require highly specific industrial conditions to actually break down. It’s also the case that many local authorities will not have food waste collection services, meaning that compostable plastics are often incinerated or sent to landfill anyway.
“The only long term solution to the plastic pollution crisis is for non-essential plastics to not be used in the first place. To achieve this goal we need to see government legislation to force companies into using alternatives to plastic.”