August 16, 2022

Yorkshire’s bakery becomes first in UK to introduce potato starch bags to reduce plastic usage

A baker with shops across Yorkshire and the North-East has pledged to work towards having 100% green packaging with the launch of a new compostable bag – a first in the industry.

Replacing all of its plastic carriers from January, Thomas the Baker will instead be offering customers TUV-certified compostable bags made from potato starch. The waterproof material, whilst strong enough to carry substantial weight and to be reused multiple times, is made with 100% compostable material which breaks down into just three products – water, CO2 and biomass. Even the ink used on the bags are water-based.

Mel Wilson, Thomas of Helmsley Shop Manager, and Katherine Howe, Shop Assistant

Customers are being urged to reuse their bag as usual, but once it is no longer fit for purpose they should put it in their home compost bin. The bag can also be used to line food waste caddies

Thomas the Baker distributes approximately 350,000 carrier bags per year, meaning this could make a big impact in terms of reducing its carbon footprint and minimising its use of plastic. The bakery has been working hard to make their processes as environmentally friendly as possible over recent years, working towards 100% green packaging. Paper bags are used where possible to allow them to be more easily recycled. Nearly all of Thomas the Baker’s products are freshly made and baked on the same day thus avoiding the need to protect them with plastic covers to enhance the shelf life. Plastic sandwich boxes have been discontinued and viable alternatives to plastic cake wrapping are being actively investigated.

By law, Thomas’ has to charge customers 5p per carrier bag (rising to 10p in April), but any profits the company makes are donated to local charities. To date they have raised in excess of £15,000 which is donated to local good causes. Thomas the Baker has 30 stores, with its head office and main bakery based in Helmsley. It remains a family business with founder John Thomas at the helm, who set up the company in 1981. 

Simon Thomas, general manager at Thomas the Baker, said: “We’ve been investigating compostable carrier bags for a long time trying to find the right product. The bags are three times the price of traditional plastic which is presumably why they’re not widely used, but we felt it was important to make a stand, and we believe we’re the first bakery to do this on any scale. The message should always be to reuse items as much as possible and we chose these bags because they are strong and practical but they’ll also completely compost down in a home compost or industrial composting facility. We’re keen gardeners as a family and are currently testing these at home in our compost. It would be great if we could encourage some more people to take up composting in their gardens too, as it’s so easy and a great way to reduce waste.

“There is some education to be done around the bags as they’re a fairly new idea. These are not the same as biodegradable bags – biodegradable bags are often still plastic based, whereas compostable ones are made with natural plant starch and will actually benefit your flower beds! The bags shouldn’t be included in recycling or sent to landfill and we advise people not to put them in for council collection with their garden waste. Although they could easily be composted, it is likely to be misidentified and classed as a plastic bag which risks the whole batch being seen as contaminated.”

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