plastic bags

The retail boss said shoppers risked spreading the virus by bringing their own reusable bags into stores

The government has been urged to waive the 5p carrier bag charge, as a potential measure against the spread of coronavirus.

The Grocer understands the proposal was made by a leading supermarket boss yesterday during crisis talks with Defra secretary George Eustice. The retailer expressed the view that shoppers risked spreading the virus by bringing their own reusable bags from home into stores. 

“I didn’t get the impression the idea had consensus and it would be a bit difficult to row back against the changes that have been made in the war on plastic, although this is a national crisis,” said one source close to the talks. 

“Scrapping the plastic bag charge temporarily is an interesting point and potentially a way to try to slow the spread of the virus.”

The government is understood to be considering the idea but is not yet “at the point of making a decision”.

Last week several coffee chains, including Starbucks, stopped accepting customers’ own cups.

During the same briefing, Eustice discussed how supermarkets could ramp up online grocery deliveries and click & collect services as the government prepared to step up its fight by encouraging a week of self-isolation to anyone with coughs or colds.

The retailers confirmed they were now operating at capacity on home deliveries as consumers continued to stockpile and suggested even major increases in their operations would not prove a game-changer.

“Online is roughly 7% of the overall market. Even if we were able to increase that by 50% it would still only account for 10%. This is not going to solve the problem in itself,” the source said.

“Click & collect is very limited in terms of an overall part of the offer. It is also labour-intensive and if you move more staff on to click & collect you are moving them away from other duties in store and from picking for online deliveries.”

Following the meeting, the government did agree to lifting restrictions on local authority restrictions on night-time deliveries to stores.