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Co-op bans bags-for-life and calls for joined-up approach from Government to combat plastic carrier use

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Co-op will remove plastic bags for life from sale in all 2,600 stores warning that the low-cost, reusable bag has become the new single-use carrier. The announcement comes as it publishes a new report ‘Bag to Rights’, which sets out new policy recommendations for Government.

As part of this move, and ahead of the new carrier bag levy increase coming in to place, the convenience retailer will also roll out compostable carriers to all stores to ensure that customers are able to purchase a low-cost, low impact alternative bag with a sustainable second use.

Co-op hailed the introduction of the carrier bag charge in 2015 and has welcomed the rise in the fee to 10p. However, as stated in Co-op’s latest report, it is now urging Government to go further in the next phase of its plans and is calling for a policy to require major retailers to report on all reusable bags, as well as single-use bags, to provide greater transparency to track the true impact of carrier bag levy.

Co-op’s other recommendations include requiring all single-use carrier bags to be certified compostable and to introduce a minimum 50p price for reusable bags to create a greater perceived value to encourage customers to reuse them instead of treating them as single-use.

Co-op praises the success of the levy’s ability to reduce the sale of conventional single use carriers significantly, seeing a 95% reduction since its introduction in 2015. However, data from Greenpeace has indicated that, in 2019, supermarkets distributed over 1.5 billion bags for life – weighing a total of 44,913 tonnes – which is a 56 percent increase from the previous year.

Shopper using a Co-op reusable tote bag (Image: Co-op)

Bags for Life use more plastic in their production than conventional single use carriers, which has in turn increased the amount of plastic in circulation. Co-op’s new initiative will remove 29.5 million bags for life, weighing around 870 tonnes of plastic, from sale each year.

The convenience retailer is now looking to work with more food retailers to adopt a balanced and joined-up approach to their carrier bag offer. Co-op’s approach involves removing bags for life from sale, rolling out a compostable bags for 10p and setting the price of its lowest cost reusable bag at 50p. This approach is aimed at embedding real reuse of bags in the retail setting.

The replacement of single-use bags in all Co-op stores with its iconic certified compostable carrier bag, means that when customers forget their reusable bag, or just need an extra bag on a shopping trip, there is a low-cost option available that has a built-in and very valuable second use. Currently only one other retailer offers a lower-price point bag alternative to a bag for life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, faced with limited options, many customers are simply choosing the cheapest bag available, which in many cases is a bag for life.

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Jo Whitfield, CEO, Co-op Food, said: “Increased use of Bags for Life has led to a sharp rise in plastic use. With over 1.5 billion bags sold each year by retailers, this remains a massive issue for our industry as many shoppers are regularly buying so called ‘Bags for Life’ to use just once and it’s leading to major hike in the amount of plastic being produced.

“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.

“We believe that it should be mandatory for all retailers to report on the sales of all of their reusable bags, not just single-use bags. Right now, Co-op is the only major retailer to report on all of the bags it sells. This policy would enable a fuller understanding on the impact of the levy and its true effect on shopping behaviours when customers are making decisions at the tills.”

Co-op is removing all plastic bags for life from sale in all 2,600 stores (Image: Co-op)

Helen Bird, Strategic Engagement Manager WRAP, said: “All bags, regardless of the material they are made from, impact on the environment. The most important thing to reduce this impact is reuse. Just as we all now carry a mask about ourselves, we should be doing the same with shopping bags.

“Supermarkets have a responsibility to incentivise this and we would like to see transparent reporting on all types of shopping bags – whether they are made of traditional plastic, compostable plastic or paper. There will be times when we forget to bring a bag and in these instances we can still reuse those bags, and at the end of their life we recycle them at supermarket collection points. For Co-op’s shoppers this means that they are able to reuse carrier bags and if they have a food waste collection then they can use it as a caddy liner.”

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Co-op became the first retailer to make compostable carrier bags widely available when it rolled them out to over 1,000 stores in 2018. The bags are certified compostable with a secondary use as a food waste caddy liner in the home and, collected as part of Local Authority household food waste collections.

The bags are also suitable for use in home-compost bins.

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With the ongoing expansion of kerbside collections across Local Authorities in the UK, this is the right time to make the bags available in all stores.  The move also promotes increased engagement with food waste collections, which is why Co-op is also recommending that all single-use carrier bags must be compostable, at a minimum price of 10p wherever sold.

Reducing the environmental impact of its products has always been at the core of Co-op’s activities. It removed plastic stems from cotton buds before any other retailer 14 years ago, banned microbeads and removed all hard to recycle black and dark plastic from its shelves. Co-op is on track to make all of its own-brand packaging easily recyclable this year.

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(Lead image: Co-op)


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Environment

The Welsh National Survey for Otters shows partial decline of otter populations in Wales

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Natural Resources Wales, Cardiff University and a host of volunteers have repeated the Welsh National Survey for Otters for the first time since 2010.

Using the same methods as previous surveys to ensure results were comparable, a total of 1073 sites were visited, with signs of otters found at 756 sites, showing a substantive decline in their populations for the first time since the 1970s, from around 90% occupancy in 2010 to 70% in 2015 to 2018.

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Reasons for the decline are unclear and further work is planned by NRW and CU to investigate likely reasons for this.

Dr Eleanor Kean, who led the research for the Cardiff University Otter Project, said: “Cardiff University Otter Project (CUOP) surveyed national survey sites across six river catchments and noted a decline in otter signs. Natural Resources Wales collaborated with us to organise surveys of the remaining sites across Wales to complete a sixth Otter Survey of Wales, with the help of volunteer surveyors.

“Declines were not universal, with the worst affected regions being the Conwy, Loughor, and Teifi catchments. Smaller declines were evident on most other catchments, while only a few, such as the Severn, seemed to have stable populations”.

Liz Halliwell, Team Leader for Terrestrial Ecosystems and Species at NRW said: “Monitoring otter population status is important with respect to conservation of this much-loved mammal. As well as this, as top predator of our freshwaters, the otter can be an important biological indicator of the health of our rivers and wetlands.

“In Wales as in much of the UK, the otter is a largely nocturnal animal and is rarely observed in the wild, but it is possible to detect its presence by searching for its distinctive droppings – spraints- and footprints.

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“Otter populations across Britain have been gradually recovering from significant declines in the 1970s. The clear message from this report is that we cannot be complacent about the ongoing recovery of the otter in the UK. To understand the reasons for the decline, we are working with otter and freshwater habitat experts to review the situation.  We also have an extensive River Restoration Programme in development which will bring benefits to many riparian species including otters.”

The Mammal Society, Environment Agency and Natural England, with support from a number of water companies, will be initiating the sixth national otter survey of England in 2022. 

(Lead image: Natural Resources Wales)

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Environment

Energy saving consultancy helps leisure firm reduce carbon footprint

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Almost 500 tonnes of carbon a year have been saved thanks to energy-saving measures at Swansea leisure facilities.

Freedom Leisure, the not-for-profit charitable leisure trust which operates leisure centres in Swansea as well as dozens of other local authorities across the UK, has been working in partnership with an energy saving consultancy to deliver a number of projects to minimise the environmental impact of its leisure centres.

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Award winning consultancy and industry leader, Leisure Energy has been supporting the not-for-profit organisation with projects across the UK.

Amongst recent projects was a programme of energy saving measures implemented
across the community leisure facilities in Swansea, South Wales.

Operated by Freedom Leisure, on behalf of Swansea Council, the facilities have benefitted from significant energy savings and a reduction in carbon of almost 500 tonnes per year. This is equivalent to taking 100 cars off the road per year or saving the entire energy use of an average house for almost 40 years.

This success is being replicated across the Freedom Leisure group, with the organisation
able to reduce its carbon emissions by 841 tonnes (CO2) and also reduce both its gas (-
5.1%) and electricity usage (-9.2%) during 2019-20. However, the organisation is now
looking to boost these efforts even further.

The recent award winning project at The Stour Centre, Ashford, is testimony to this. The
carbon reduction project at the Freedom Leisure centre was delivered with support from
the Public Sector Decarbonisation Grant and will result in carbon emissions being halved
at the centre. The project has been recognised with multiple industry awards, including
Energy Managers Association: Energy Management Consultancy Partnership 2021; and
New Civil Engineer: Best Use of Technology: Carbon Reduction (TechFest 2021).

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The LC is one of the leisure centres in Swansea to have benefitted from the energy reduction programme (Image: Freedom leisure)

Working on behalf of Freedom Leisure, Leisure Energy have played an instrumental role
in the delivery and success of these projects.

Neil Bland, Managing Director – Leisure Energy said: “Leisure energy have been working with Freedom leisure for about 6 years, helping with their energy efficiency, sustainability and decarbonisation pledges. We recently helped Freedom Leisure reduce the carbon footprint of the community leisure facilities in Swansea by nearly 500 tonnes per year. Our most recent project has also won two prestigious awards for decarbonisation, again – showing that Freedom Leisure are at the forefront of carbon reduction in the Leisure sector.”

Ivan Horsfall-Turner, Chief Executive Officer of Freedom Leisure added: “Minimising environmental impact is a priority for Freedom Leisure right across our organisation. We are totally committed to being socially and environmentally aware, delivering a sustainable service for local communities – the success and recognition of these recent projects in Swansea and Ashford are testimony to that.”

Freedom Leisure say that these awards follow the recent appointment of a new Sustainability and Environmental Manager. Angela Brown was recently appointed to the newly created
role in a bid to secure its commitment towards a greener future. Brown has joined the
Senior Leadership Team and Freedom Leisure say she will play a key role in driving the sustainability and environmental efforts at all levels across the group.

(Lead image: Freedom Leisure)

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Recycled paint tins turned into bench for housing association’s haven scheme

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Neath Port Talbot housing association, Tai Tarian’s paint suppliers Crown Paints have donated a bench with a difference to a Haven scheme in Crynant, made entirely out of recycled paint cans!

While the housing association recycle their paint tins with Derwen Recyling in Neath, Crown have their own ‘Can Back’ scheme allowing all paint tins returned to the business to be recycled.

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The nationwide service has saved an estimated 8000 tonnes of paint cans from going to landfill by turning them into outdoor benches, planters or picnic tables, to be enjoyed in local communities.

Playing their part in a sustainable planet is a big priority for Tai Tarian so being gifted a bench transformed from recycled materials for Llwynon residents is fantastic.

As an added bonus the bench is located in the scheme’s biodiverse garden space, the pride and joy of many of the residents.

Esther Harris Operations Manager at Tai Tarian said: “After being customers for many years we were delighted when Crown asked us to nominate a community space that could benefit from one of their recycled benches.

The pandemic has been particularly tough for our Haven residents with their communal areas closed until quite recently. Their wonderful garden space is a real community hub at the scheme so the bench will enhance that outdoor area, allow them to socialise together and improve wellbeing.”

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Glen Cooper, Specification Technical manager at Crown added: “Crown Paints have always been proud to be a strategic supply partner to Tai Tarian and that our recycled plastic benches are a physical representation of the commitment that both businesses have to Sustainability, also people can actually use and see the commitment and effort both businesses have on recycling. The placing of this bench in a communal garden space adds the dimension of wellbeing into the environmental mix. The benches have a lifespan far in excess of a traditional timber product and we hope many people will use it to enjoy being in the fresh air for decades to come.”

(Lead image: Tai Tarian)

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