The retailer Iceland has become the first big supermarket in Britain to banish plastic bags entirely in one of its stores, in a pilot which could lead to a complete ban across all of its shops. In a new trial, which started this week in Iceland’s Hackney store in London, customers are being offered extra-strong paper bags for 15p, instead of bags-for life. Environmental campaigners are becoming increasingly concerned that more plastic is now used for the stronger bags than for the traditional flimsier carrier bags, even though consumers are still using them just once.
Britain has already taken 15 billion plastic bags out of circulation by imposing a 5p tax on bags but figures released last year showed that more than one billion heavy-duty carriers are being distributed every year by the major UK supermarkets. And the hardier bags contain twice as much plastic.
Richard Walker, Managing Director at Iceland, said: “We know that many customers are using ‘bags for life’ only once and the retail industry needs to work together to challenge this behaviour and find alternative solutions.
“Over 1.2 billion plastic bags for life were sold last year in the UK and this needs to change drastically.
“We’re looking forward to seeing how customers respond and using the results of the trials in our wider plans to reduce our plastic footprint.”
Earlier this month The Telegraph launched a ‘Zero Waste Campaign’ to encourage the government and retailers to cut down on packaging and make recycling easier and more consistent.
Iceland removed plastic single-use carrier bags from all stores in 2018 and was also the first retailer to globally to commit to remove all plastic from its own-label packaging by the end of 2023. The retailer is also trialling reverse vending machines for plastic bottles, and plastic-free fruit and vegetables.
Sian Sutherland, founder of A Plastic Planet, which is campaigning for a plastic-free aisle in every supermarket, said: “One man’s bag is another man’s problem as we are connected by one ocean.
“Plastic bags should not exist. We can survive without them and Iceland shoppers will be the first to prove this.
“We hope this symbolic trial is embraced by the people of Hackney and will lead the rest of the supermarket pack.”
Iceland is currently trialling paper bags alongside plastic bags-for-life at 25 stores in North Wales, Wirral and Cheshire, and 10 stores in the Manchester area from August 10th, to see which option is preferred by customers. The six month long trials are expected to take 210,000 plastic bags out of use and could lead to on-paper bags being phased out entirely from stores. The trial was welcomed by campaigners who said paper bags were far better for customers who forget to bring reusable bags.
Friends of the Earth’s senior plastic campaigner Julian Kirby said: “This is another step on the journey towards getting rid of pointless plastic.
“Reusable bags are best, but if a customer forgets to bring them, paper bags – preferably sustainably produced – are better than plastic.
“Ridding stores of the plastic pollution that harms our wildlife and blights our environment should be a priority for supermarkets.”