Time to jump in to the good news.

Tales of victory

Last month, we talked about failed plastic bans of the past and what we can learn from them. It’s also important to recognize and learn from the successes that other areas and groups have experienced with their own efforts in getting rid of single-use plastic bags. By taking lessons from these success stories, we are far more likely to have effective and long-lasting legislation regarding the fight against plastic pollution.

In the UK, Co-op introduced certified compostable bags as a replacement for their single-use plastic carrier bags back in 2007, with most of their stores adopting the eco-friendly alternative by 2018. More recently, they have decided to stop offering the reusable “Bags for Life” that were previously available for customers to purchase at checkout. This move comes from the company recognizing that offering these bags actually introduces extra plastic into circulation, and it is estimated that removing them will prevent about 870 tonnes of plastic from being sold each year from their stores alone. Jo Whitfield, the CEO of Co-op Food was quoted as saying “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 a major hike in the amount of plastic being produced.” The company also recognizes that offering certified compostable bags increases awareness and involvement in organic waste collection and recovery because they educate their customers on the bags’ valuable second use for collecting organics. Co-op has recommended to governments that all retailers be required to switch over from single-use plastic bags to certified compostable alternatives in order to truly move towards a sustainable future. The company is also one of very few retailers that publicly reports not just on their single-use bag sales, but also on the number of reusable bags that they are providing to customers, something that they believe should be mandatory in order to provide an accurate picture of the amount of plastic entering waste streams.

In France, a ban on free distribution of single-use plastic shopping bags in 2016 has led to a reduction in approximately 5 billion plastic grocery bags. Importantly, while the ban includes restricting biodegradable bags, it mandates that the replacement for single-use and biodegradable plastic bags be “domestically compostable” alternatives. This is key as it recognizes the important differences between greenwashed biodegradable bags and truly environmentally-beneficial certified compostable bags. It also underscores the vital role that governments can play in providing direction to their constituents as to what they should use to replace banned products. In an effort to prevent the loss of valuable jobs in the plastics industry, the French Environment Minister also proposed an investment in bioplastics like starch-based compostable bags as a replacement product, a move that he estimates will create more than 3,000 jobs.  

While many plastics bans are still in the early stages of their implementation, the successes that have resulted are already undeniable. By offering consumers an alternative that is easy for them to adopt as a replacement for single-use plastics and that is ultimately far better for the environment, governments and businesses have pioneered an important upward shift in the economy and in peoples’ daily lives. 

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