Supermarket’s shift from plastic ‘bags for life’ to paper is good but focus should be on re-usable bags

The supermarket chain Morrisons has announced it is starting trials with a view to replacing plastic ‘bags for life’ with strong paper bags.

Our report Checking Out on Plastics II, jointly produced with Greenpeace UK, found that in 2019, 10 UK supermarkets representing 94.4 per cent of the grocery retail market reported selling an astonishing 1.5 billion bags for life, up by about 25 per cent on the previous year based on market share.

In real terms, 1.5 billion bags for life sold in the past year represents about 54 per household in the UK – or a staggering 22 bags each per man, woman and child.

Christina Dixon, EIA Senior Ocean Campaigner, said: “We found that bags for life were quickly becoming ‘bags for a week’, with the bags largely being treated as a single-use option with disastrous environmental consequences.

“We commend Morrisons for seeking to address this challenge and reduce its plastic footprint. However, no material comes without an environmental consequence – in the case of paper, the potential impact is on deforestation – and we would strongly urge supermarkets to shift their focus from material replacements and instead concentrate efforts on a long-term shift to re-usable bags and an overall reduction in packaging.

“Our key recommendation in this respect is an increase in price of bags for life, something which has been shown to increase their useful lifespan and to encourage customers to bring their own bags.

“Our research clearly shows that people have had enough of single-use and unnecessary plastic in their lives and that they are willing to make lifestyle changes to reduce waste. To help them do so, we need to make alternatives easily accessible and readily available.”