Waitrose & Partners is to remove traditional plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetables and 5p single-use plastic bags from its stores by next spring.

The supermarket said the move would cut 134m plastic bags, the equivalent of 500 tonnes of plastic a year.

The fruit and vegetable bags will be replaced by a home compostable alternative, derived from corn starch, which the retailer said would look and feel similar to the current ones and could be placed in food waste caddies or broken down in landfill if put in a normal bin. Friends of the Earth welcomed the retailer’s attempt to reduce its plastic footprint but expressed doubt that compostable bags were the answer.

Emma Priestland, a plastics campaigner at the environmental group, said: “It’s good to see big companies like Waitrose looking for ways to reduce the plastic in their stores. But compostable, bio-based bags aren’t necessarily the gold-star solution they first appear. This is a case of swapping one kind of single-use plastic for another, when actually removing the packaging entirely would be the best option.

The 5p bags will be removed from six shops: Saxmundham, Gerrards Cross, Keynsham, Dorking, Newark and East Putney, from 8 October to help ensure a smooth changeover before Waitrose & Partners phases them out elsewhere later in the year.

Waitrose & Partners has started to remove all takeaway disposable coffee cups from its shops; they have gone from more than 300 of its 348 stores.

Waitrose & Partners has also already pledged not to sell any own-label food in black plastic beyond 2019 and to make all of its own-label packaging widely recyclable, reusable or home compostable by 2025.

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