New scheme saves 7m plastic bags

A TRAILBLAZING scheme to cut plastic bag use in Suffolk and Essex was last night hailed a massive success - and sparked a call for the nation's major retailers to follow suit.

Richard Smith

A TRAILBLAZING scheme to cut plastic bag use in Suffolk and Essex was last night hailed a massive success - and sparked a call for the nation's major retailers to follow suit.

The East of England Co-operative Society revealed it had saved seven million bags from going to landfill since deciding in September to stop giving them away in its 135 food stores and five petrol forecourts.

Instead, customers have to either buy a degradable plastic carrier bag for 1p or 2p, depending on size, a home compostable alternative for 6p, or a 'bag for life'.

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No other major food retailer, apart from Marks and Spencer, charges for single-use plastic bags.

Last night, the Co-op's scheme was praised by an MP and there were calls for other large food retailers to take note of its success.

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Richard Samson, chief executive of the East of England Co-operative Society, said: ''We were hoping that we could achieve an ambitious reduction in the order of 75% to 80%, but with a fantastic effort from our store colleagues right across East Anglia, we've easily beaten that figure with an 84% reduction overall.

“Whilst we're proud to be leading the way on this important issue, our food store competitors appear to be hanging back, with promises to cut plastic bag usage by up to 50% by next spring.

“We look forward to seeing other major retailers following our example on this sooner rather than later.”

The Co-op, which is the region's largest independent retailer, is on target to save more than 28 million bags in 12 months.

Chris Mole, MP for Ipswich, said: ''This kind of direct action from retailers is a great example of how we can all, in our everyday lives, make a difference in the fight against climate change.''

UK retailers hand out an estimated 13 billion free plastic bags annually. Last week, Asda, Sainsbury's, Somerfield, Marks and Spencer, Tesco and Waitrose agreed to a 50% cut in the number of carrier bags given out by next spring.

Tesco corporate and legal affairs director Lucy Neville-Rolfe said: "We were the first retailer to set our own reduction targets on carrier bags more than two years ago and since that time we have saved more than three billion bags.

"The great news is that these savings have been brought about through incentives and rewards for customers who reuse their bags. We have always believed that penalising customers by forcing them to pay for bags will not achieve lasting changes in behaviour and we are pleased that the Government appears to support this approach.”

Sainsbury's environment manager Alison Austin said: "To help persuade shoppers to switch to bags for life we have removed single-use bags from check-outs and we have introduced a scheme whereby shoppers receive extra Nectar points for not using free carrier bags. As such, we are rewarding our customers for being environmentally conscious, rather than punishing them by forcing them to pay for carrier bags.”

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