Co-op to charge for plastic bags

THE region's largest independent retailer is introducing a charge for plastic shopping bags as part of a campaign to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill.

THE region's largest independent retailer is introducing a charge for plastic shopping bags as part of a campaign to reduce the volume of waste going to landfill.

From Monday, September 8, the East of England Co-operative Society will no longer issue free carrier bags to customers at its 135 food retail outlets across the region and its five petrol forecourts.

The move follows a trial at selected locations across Suffolk, Essex and Norfolk which was launched by the society in May this year and attracted the support of writer and environmental campaigner Bill Bryson, whose anti-litter crusade was featured on BBC1's Panorama programme earlier this week.

Now, the concept is to be extended across the society's food operation, with the trial having indicated a huge level of support for the initiative from customers.

It has achieved reduction of more than 80% in the number of standard plastic bags carried and a significant increase in the sale of eco-friendly alternatives, including the Co-op's “Bag for Life” and Fairtrade Cotton bags.

Richard Samson, chief executive of the East of England Co-op, said: “We believe that other national food retailers are targeting a 25% reduction in carrier bags over the next few years but, frankly, that's really not good enough.

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“The results of our carrier bag trials would suggest that, with the co-operation of our customers, we can achieve an overall reduction in the order of at least 75% to 80% of carrier bags issued in our 135 food stores across East Anglia.

“This would potentially eliminate around 30 million carrier bags every year from the region's landfill sites.

“We would encourage our competitors to follow our lead and take more decisive action now to help resolve this national problem for the long term benefit of the communities they operate in,” he added.

The Co-op's regular degradable plastic carrier bag will continue to be available, but at a cost of 1p for the small size and 2p for the large size.

These degradable bags were first introduced in 2002 and are made from conventional polythene but with an additive to break them down within three years, in contrast with traditional plastic bags which can take 100 years or more to break down.

East of England Co-op food stores also stock the UK's first fully accredited home compostable carrier bag made from polyester and cornstarch, which sells at 6p. These bags are designed and certified to break down within 12 months in a garden compost bin, although the process occurs faster in warm weather.

In addition to the charges being introduced, new recycling bins will be available in all of the society's trading outlets including food stores, department stores and pharmacies to enable customers to recycle clean plastic bags.

There will also be a promotional campaign ahead of the new policy offering customers free Bags for Life for a limited period. A variety of means will then be used to remind customers to remember to reuse their bags and bring them with them when shopping.

The Co-op's new strategy has secured the support of local MPs including Chris Mole, Labour MP for Ipswich, and Bob Russell, Liberal Democrat MP for Colchester.

“I am delighted to see the East of England Co-op roll this excellent scheme out to all of its food outlets and petrol stations,” said Mr Mole. I know that trials preceding this step have been hugely successful.

“Around 13 billion plastic bags are issued in the UK annually. With the threat of climate change looming, we all have to do our bit to make the free distribution of plastic bags at the point of sale a thing of the past.

“I know that the Government is prepared to legislate to realise this vision, but I am impressed to see an institution like the Co-op - which is a strong part of the local community - voluntarily setting the benchmark for other retailers to follow.”

Mr Russell added: “As a life-long supporter of the co-operative movement I am delighted to endorse this latest pioneering move which further reinforces the Co-op's proud record of being Britain's leading environmentally-friendly retailer.

“All who take environmental issues seriously will welcome the East of England Co-operative Society's 'Plastic Bag Reduction Initiative'. I wish the Society every success.”