Why we charge for our branded carrier bags

We thought it might be useful to be very clear and transparent in our reasons for now charging 5p for one of our Great Cornish Food Store branded paper carrier bags and the free alternatives we offer instead.

Our reasons for charging for the carrier bags are simple:

  • It is now widely accepted that unnecessary carrier bag use – of whatever kind – is not something that any business interested in the environment should be promoting.  We choose to use paper carrier bags in preference to plastic ones to minimise our environmental impact and to be as responsible as possible, but even paper bags have a an environmental cost in terms of their production/distribution and generation of waste.
  • The compulsory plastic bag levy applies only to shops of a certain size and to certain purchases but many others who are not subject to the levy are choosing to show their support for the intention behind it. This includes, for example, clothes shops who charge for paper bags – and us.
  • We have as you know a unique arrangement between our store and Waitrose.  One of the unintended impacts of us offering free paper carrier bags has been that customers would come to shop in our store first, often for a very small number of items, and ask for a large carrier bag in order to save having to buy a bag costing 5p for their Waitrose shopping. This goes completely against the grain of our aims on waste.
  • We thought long and hard about the introduction of the 5p charge and decided that we would continue to offer free paper bags for any purchases but that these would be low impact unbranded bags without handles – the classic American style grocery bag.  We have also started offering cardboard boxes.  And we have introduced reusable cotton shopper bags too.  There are plenty of options for customers, including those who are happy to pay for a bag and those who would like a free bag.

Despite our concerns about this move, the impact has been startling – not only have we drastically reduced the use of the heavy duty brown paper bags, but most customers have opted to use their own multi-use bags that they make a habit of carrying on them, or to use a box, which would previously have gone straight into our waste.  The overwhelming majority of customers are pleased with our decision and supportive of our reasons, some even saying that they felt our previous offer of free bags was excessive and that they are happy to see us falling into line with the majority of other retailers.  Another impact we didn’t envisage is the way in which our staff have embraced the move, many of them also saying that they were uncomfortable with the number of bags we were giving away.

May we also assure you that this is not a money-making exercise. Even the American-style bags cost us more than 5p to buy in, and of the 5p we charge, approx. 1p goes automatically to the government in VAT.  A plastic bag would cost us about 1p, but we steadfastly refuse to go down that route.