Waitrose & Partners has announced it will remove all 5p plastic bags from its shops by March 2019, and replace loose fruit and vegetable bags with a ‘home compostable’ alternative, derived from corn starch, by spring next year.
The move follows an announcement in June that plastic bags in the grocery aisles at Morrisons will be replaced with brown paper bags made from 100% recyclable paper.
Bio-based bags made from materials such as corn starch still contain biodegradable polymers, and will only break down if exposed to heat, light and oxygen. If they sink underwater or are buried in a landfill site they won’t biodegrade.
In a 2016 interview with the Guardian the UN’s top environmental scientist warned biodegradable plastic bags are ‘a false solution’ to the ocean waste problem that is ‘well-intentioned but wrong’.
Waitrose & Partners has also pledged not to sell any own-label products in black plastic packaging beyond 2019. The long-term goal is for all own-label packaging to be widely recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2025.
These initiatives follow Waitrose & Partners’ announcement earlier this year to remove coffee cups from stores, saving 52 million cups a year.
Elena Polisano, oceans campaigner for Greenpeace UK, said removing all plastic bags is a ‘sensible move’ by Waitrose & Partners, but added that retailers ‘must focus on moving beyond packaging that’s designed to be used once then discarded, rather than swapping one disposable item for another.’
‘We welcome their recognition that this is a small part of a much bigger issue – UK supermarkets generate over 800,000 tonnes of plastic packaging waste each year’, Elena added. ‘Much of it is unnecessary and all of it is a problem. We urgently need transparency on total plastic use, and annual targets to reduce that total. It’s going to happen, but we need it to happen swiftly, and supermarkets can still choose whether to be market leaders or laggards.’
5p single-use plastic carrier bags will initially be removed from six Waitrose & Partners shops – Saxmundham, Gerrards Cross, Keynsham, Dorking, Newark and East Putney – starting from 08 October 2018.
Waitrose & Partners says the move will prevent almost 134 million bags each year from entering the environment, which equates to 500 tonnes of plastic.
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