A regional co-operative is marking the success of the carrier bag levy five years after it came into force in England on 5 October 2015.
Southern Co-op's customers have cut their use of single use plastic bags by millions whilst also raising more than £1.5m for good causes across the south.
Back in 2015 the independent retailer initially set a goal of reducing single-use plastic bags by at least 50% across all of its stores based in Berkshire, Bristol, Devon, Dorset, East Sussex, London, Hampshire, the Isle of Wight, Kent, Somerset, Surrey, West Sussex and Wiltshire.
This target was smashed within a year and the downward trend has continued into 2020.
It was estimated that 29 million single use plastic bags were used in 2014 which has been reduced by 78% in 2019.
Gemma Lacey, Director for Sustainability and Communications at Southern Co-op, said: "As a responsible regional business, it is essential that we continue to move people away from single use plastic so we are pleased to see a continued year-on-year reduction in carrier bag sales.
"Whilst we are a convenience store and need to continue to provide customers with a way to carry their shopping home, customers can return these to our store colleagues for recycling.
"Customers are also switching to reusable bags as well as compostable bags which we've introduced in stores where the local authority collects household food waste recycling. We hope this trend carries on and continues to make an impact in tackling climate change."
For every single use bag purchased at a Southern Co-op store 5p is donated to good causes. Since 2015, the donations total more than £1.5 million.
Holly Bramble, Community and Campaign Co-ordinator at Southern Co-op, said: "£1.5m is a huge amount of money and so many small groups have benefitted. In the beginning, we partnered with the Wildlife Trust, Solent Mind, Stand Against Violence and Scope - all of which made a huge impact in their local communities.
"Since then the funds have supported hundreds of small local charities and good causes via Love Your Neighbourhood, our community programme which aims to create greener, safer, healthier and more inclusive neighbourhoods.
"These causes are selected by our local stores and funeralcare branches and range from primary schools PTAs and food banks to hospitals and homeless charities. Each one means something special to our colleagues and their communities."
The carrier bag levy is just one part of Southern Co-op's community contributions which are accumulated from a wide range of activities including cash donations, fundraising events, product donations, hours spent volunteering and other fundraising activities.
In 2019, a total of £1.43m was contributed to local communities which includes a direct investment of £513,974 from Southern Co-op and £387,992 from the carrier bag levy.
To find out more about Southern Co-op's community fund, visit https://www.thesouthernco-operative.co.uk/love-your-neighbourhood.