Compostable bags carry the Co-op a stride away from single-use plastics 

Carrier bags

On 22nd September 2018), the Co-op announced its phased roll out of lightweight, certified industrially and home compostable carrier bags to almost 1,400 Co-op food stores where the bags are accepted in food waste collections1. The new bags will substitute approximately 60 million standard plastic single-use ones, they are of the same size and strength and are the same price, at 5p/bag.  After use and re-use when carrying shopping home they can also be used as liners in kitchen caddies for food waste and food waste bins, or be home composted.  

Jeremy Jacobs, Technical Director of the Renewable Energy Association said: "We warmly welcome this move by the Co-op. Rolling out the compostable carriers in areas where they are accepted in food waste collections together with ensuring they are home compostable and making them the same size, strength and price as standard plastic single-use carriers makes it easy for consumers in these areas to switch. Crucially for the organics recycling sector, it should reduce the amount of plastic bags that arrive at composting facilities in these areas.”  

The REA has made a conservative estimate that the UK organics recycling sector incurs an annual cost of £7.26 million for removing approximately 78,000 tonnes of plastic and sending it, mainly, to energy from waste facilities.  

Jeremy added: "The Co-op’s encouragement of re-use of the compostable carriers before home composting or using them as kitchen caddie or food bin liners is a simple step that encourages resource efficiency and should help consumers in targeted areas to understand that the only carriers and liners allowed in their food waste bin are compostable ones.”  

The REA intends to monitor the experience of its commercial organics recycling members in those areas.  This will include whether the amount of compostable carriers they receive remains manageable and what reduction in the amount of non-compostable plastic bags and bin liners they see from household sources in those areas.

In its May response to HM Treasury’s call for evidence on tackling single-use plastics, the REA called on the government to change taxes/charges for lightweight plastic bags and kitchen food caddie and food bin liners so that compostable ones become at least no more expensive than the non-compostable ones.  The REA expects that in time, there would be far fewer non-compostable plastic bags arriving at composting facilities and no more pressure from some biowaste suppliers on some anaerobic digestion (AD) facilities to accept the waste in non-compostable plastic bags.  The REA awaits to hear the autumn budget in which we expect the government to announce the moves it will make to tackle single-use plastics.  Jeremy added: "In the meantime, we welcome the Co-op’s trailblazing decision to provide the compostable carriers at a not-for-profit price.”

The Co-op’s new ethical strategy

The Co-op’s move on lightweight carrier bags is part of its new hard-hitting ethical strategy which will be launched on 27th September.  The strategy will tackle plastic pollution as well as food waste, healthy eating, saving energy and trading fairly.  It will also set out how the Co-op will ban single-use own-brand plastic products and reduce its overall use of plastic packaging within five years and stop using hard to recycle materials, like black plastic. 
And as part of the commitment, the Co-op’s pledge on plastic will see all its own-brand packaging become easy to recycle by 2023. It has 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.

The Co-op’s initiative to ditch single-use plastics will see it increase recyclable packaging and materials.  Almost three out of four products the Co-op makes are now widely recyclable, which accounts for 95% of its products when measured by weight.  It has reduced hard to recycle plastics, such as pizza discs, sushi bases and cooked meat packaging but promises to go further.  Its reductions in plastic use, combined with its new pledge on carrier bags, is the equivalent to 125 million plastic water bottles2 being taken out of production. 

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.” 

She added: "Our ban on single-use plastic is central to our new ethical blue-print. 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.”

The Future of Food report will be unveiled at a supplier conference on Thursday 27 September 2018 and will set out Co-op’s vision to tackle a range of topics including food waste, Fairtrade and energy. It has been developed to meet the UN’s sustainable development goals to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all by 2030.

The Co-op already sources 100% renewable energy for its stores, but will go on to tackle greenhouse emissions through its logistics operations. In addition, Co-op will reduce energy, water and waste in its supply chain.  It will continue to campaign for the rights of workers in its supply chain, having raised the issue of modern slavery, and will raise funds to bring clean water to communities in developing countries.

The plan’s major pledges include:
  • banning single-use plastics by 2023
  • cutting greenhouse emissions
  • tackling food waste


1  The Co-op will be speaking with the remaining local councils to seek to extend coverage to more stores.  
2  The Co-op has removed 1255 tonnes of hard to recycle plastic with alternatives, while the move to compostable carrier bags will take a further 339 tonnes of plastic out of circulation. A tonne of plastic contains enough to make over 78,740 water bottles.
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