Instead of the plastic variety, the supermarket will offer bags made of cotton, paper or jute, or alternatively cardboard cartons.
Rewe, where around 27 million people do their shopping every week, will keep selling remaining stocks of plastic bags until July.
Th supermarkets won't be completely plastic bag free, though. Translucent plastic bags will still be on offer for free for packing fruit and vegetables. But the company have pledged that they are looking for alternatives in this area as well.
The decision builds on a trial in 130 stores where Rewe sold no plastic bags for three months, a pilot project which the company reports was accepted by the majority of their customers.
“We see this as a really positive step,. It is the first correct step that Rewe have made,” Thomas Fischer, head of the recycling management division at German Environmental Aid, told The Local.
But he warned that if plastic bags were simply to replaced by paper bags it could be counter-productive.
Paper bags are three times as heavy as plastic ones, use three times the material, and are much more energy-intensive to produce, he pointed out.
“Rewe need to offensively market recyclable multi-use bags to customers and offer them incentives such as bonus points for buying them.”
Germany’s other supermarket chains now need to follow suit, he said.
“Rewe is the front runner. But other supermarkets have completely different customer bases. I can see Edeka following suit – they have similar customers. But I can’t forsee it happening with the discounters Lidl and Aldi.”
Rewe is taking a step further than required under new government regulations on offering plastic bags, as Germany moves to comply with EU directives.
From July onwards the retail industry will be legally obliged to charge customers for plastic bags.
The decision from the Environment Ministry came after the EU called for all member states to reduce the number of plastic bags used per head to 40 each year by 2025.
Plastic bags are partly responsible for the increased prevalence of debris in the world’s oceans over recent decades, which has a detrimental impact on over 260 marine species, according to Greenpeace.
Germany has a good record on plastic waste in comparison with other EU countries.
With an average annual use of 71 plastic bags per person, it is the fourth lowest in the union, considerably below the average of 198.
That nonetheless adds up to 68,000 tonnes of plastic bags used per year in the Federal Republic, according to Environment Ministry figures.
Germany still also has much work to do if it hopes to catch trendsetter Ireland, where the average person only uses 18 plastic bags in a year.