Plastic bags piled up

What are UK supermarkets doing to tackle plastic bags?

Last week, The Co-op announced that it will be replacing single-use plastic bags with compostable ones. The new bags, which have already been trialled in 22 stores in England, will now be introduced in more than 1,400 of the Co-op’s 2,500 stores across the UK.

The supermarket chain has said the bags will breakdown within 12 weeks under certain conditions, and so far, the new bags will only be introduced to areas where the bags can be used in food waste collections. Although, it’s hoped the scheme will be rolled out to every store in the future.

It’s been 4 years since the Scottish Government brought in the 5p plastic bag charge in a bid to encourage customers to reuse their bags and reduce the amount of litter in Scotland. The law means that all retailers in Scotland have to charge 5p for each new disposable carrier bag that a customer uses.

Scotland brought in the charge a year before it was introduced in England, but the UK Government is now expected to raise the bag charge to 10p. Although the Scottish Government is not obliged to bring in its own regulations to increase the price up here and has so far not announced any plans to do so.

In the first year since the charge was introduced, it was estimated that the seven main grocery retailers saw around an 80 percent reduction in the uptake of single-use carrier bags.

While it’s clear the bag charge has worked in reducing the number of bags people are using, supermarkets have been under increasing pressure to do even more to tackle plastic pollution.

So, what other steps have they taken to reduce plastic bags even more in their stores?

Waitrose has committed to removing small plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables (replacing them with a home compostable bag instead) and 5p single-use plastic carrier bags by spring next year.

Tesco and Sainsbury’s no longer offer single-use carrier bags and instead offer customers a stronger recycled plastic bag. Morrison’s has also stopped selling 5p single-use plastic bags.

Asda plans to phase out single use bags from its shops by the end of 2018 and will sell the bigger and stronger bags for life instead. Lidl has also committed to phasing out 5p bags by the end of the year and will charge customers 9p for a bag for life if they do require a bag.

Aldi has charged for single-use carrier bags since it opened its first store in the UK in 1990 and announced plans in March this year to ditch single-use 5p bags for reusable bags at 9p each instead.

The only store that hasn’t made a commitment to cutting single-use carrier bags is Iceland. While the supermarket chain does promote reusable bags to its customers, they still sell single-use bags and donated the proceeds of those bags to charity.

Of course, at Plastic Free Scotland we would always recommend that people take their own bags when they go to the supermarket to pick up their weekly shop. Although we are pleased to see supermarkets taking steps to discourage people from picking up a new plastic bag every time they go to the supermarket.

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