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Supermarket Becomes First in UK to Replace Single-Use Plastic Bags With Compostable Alternative

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A Co-op grocery store location in Shoreditch, London. The Co-op Group / CC BY 2.0

Since 2015, all large stores in England have been required by law to charge five pence for single-use plastic bags in an attempt to reduce plastic pollution.

Now, major UK supermarket chain the Co-op is taking that one step further by phasing out plastic bags entirely and replacing them with compostable alternatives, becoming the first supermarket in the UK to do so, The Guardian reported.


The Co-op announced the bag change Saturday, which will replace around 60 million plastic bags with the biodegradable alternatives, which will also cost five pence and can be reused to store food waste for collection.

The bag replacement is part of a larger commitment to end the use of non-recyclable plastics in Co-op brand products.

"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," Co-op Retail Chief Executive Jo Whitfield said in the company's announcement.

"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," Whitfield said.

The new bags will be available within weeks in around 1,400 Co-op locations in England, Scotland and Wales where local food waste collection can collect the bags. Eventually, the bags will be available in all 2,600 locations, The Guardian reported.

The Co-op will also seek to make all of its store-brand packaging easy to recycle by 2023 and use at least 50 percent recycled plastic for bottles, trays and pots by 2021.

It will also eliminate black plastic and dark packaging from its store brand products.

Changing the color of darker plastics, which are harder to scan for recycling, was one of the recommendations from a Local Government Association report in August that found that only a third of plastics put out on the curb in England and Wales could actually be recycled properly.

Supermarket chain Lidi UK became the first UK retailer to announce a ban on black plastics Friday, saying it would stop using them with fruits and vegetables by the end of the month. It will remove black plastic from its fish, meat and poultry packaging by August of next year, The Guardian reported.

"Supermarkets are the place where a lot of the throwaway plastic filling up our homes comes from, so it's good to see more of them are responding to the public's concern by taking action," Greenpeace UK senior oceans campaigner Louise Edge told The Guardian. "Black plastic is one of the most problematic forms of plastic you can find on supermarket shelves, and Lidl are doing the right thing by phasing it out as quickly as possible."

Supermarket Waitrose & Partners also made a move towards replacing plastic with compostable bags last week when it pledged to remove plastic fruit and vegetable bags and use biodegradable options instead. It will phase out plastic shopping bags entirely by next spring, The Guardian reported Sept 15.

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