Co-op leads move towards compostable alternatives

The Co-op announced last week (30 April) that it will be phasing out its plastic Bags for Life from sale in all of its 2,600 stores, replacing them with low-cost compostable carrier bags, which will be suitable for use as a food waste caddy liner for household food waste collections.

The move is a response to concerns that the Bags for Life sold in supermarkets, which use more plastic in their production than conventional single-use carrier bags, are being treated as single-use carrier bags.

Data from Greenpeace indicates that in 2019, supermarkets distributed over 1.5 billion Bags for Life, which is equivalent to 44,913 tonnes of plastic and an increase of 56 per cent from the previous year.

Co-op expects that its new initiative will remove 29.5 million Bags for Life from circulation, the equivalent to around 870 tonnes of plastic.

Jo Whitfield, CEO of Co-op Food, said: “To help tackle plastic pollution and the use of unnecessary plastic, we will be ceasing the sale of Bags for Life when current stocks are exhausted.
We’re also ensuring all of our members and customers have access to a low price point option that’s more environmentally friendly, alongside more durable bags at a higher price point.”

‘Bags to Rights’ report champions compostable bags

The announcement comes as the Co-op publishes a new report, ‘Bags to Rights’, which sets out new policy recommendations for the Government around the use of single-use carrier bags.

The report recommends that all carrier bags sold in stores that are subject to single use carrier bag charges should be certified compostable and that the minimum price point for reusable carrier bags should be increased to 50p.

The Co-op hopes that in making all carrier bags compostable, the primary purpose of plastic carrier bags could become to be a food-waste bin caddy-liner. Any future introduction of compostable carrier bags could coincide with separate food waste collections becoming mandatory across England, which the Government has pledged to achieve by 2023.

The report also estimates that each local authority could save £80,000-£230,000 if compostable liners are available nationwide in all stores.

Responding to the Co-op’s announcement, A Plastic Planet co-founder Sian Sutherland said: "We applaud the Co-op not only for how they have given the compostable bag a different mission.
"It is not a compostable shopping bag; it’s the liner for a food waste bin that you can bring your groceries home in first. Result - less plastic in our food waste; more food waste collected; healthier soil.

“This should be mandated for all bags in future to avoid confusion for the waste industry. If they can do it in Italy, we can do it here in the UK.”

Manufacturers look for compostable packaging alternatives

Elsewhere in the food industry, packaging manufacturers have been looking for ways to replace single-use plastics with biodegradable and compostable packaging.

In March, Mars Wrigley and Danimer Scientific announced a two-year partnership to develop compostable packaging for Skittles in the United States.

The packaging will use a polymer designed by Danimer Scientific, known as polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA). PHA is made from canola oil and is designed to break down when it is thrown into compost.

Speaking after the announcement of the partnership, CEO at Danimer Scientific Stephen Croskrey said: “Expectations for sustainable packaging vary from market to market, making it essential for new materials to be adaptable in meeting different standards without sacrificing quality.

“PHA provides a versatile platform for manufacturing material that is renewably sourced and leaves a minimal impact on the environment upon disposal. We look forward to working with Mars Wrigley in fighting the global crisis of plastic waste.”