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Environment

One of the UK’s Largest Supermarket Chains Is Looking to Ditch Its Plastic Bags

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Plastic has a large carbon footprint and can take hundreds of years to break down, meaning that virtually all of the plastic that has ever been made still threatens land and marine environments today. That’s why it’s so important that retailers take the lead and cut plastic out of everyday use. The United Nations' Global Goal 13 calls for action on the environment, including restricting plastic use. You can join us in taking action on these issues here.

Morrisons, one of the UK’s largest supermarket chains, has announced it will trial switching out its plastic "bags for life" for paper versions in eight of its stores.

The company said there was evidence from their customer research that people were binning the plastic bags after one use, despite them being intended to be kept and reused for long periods of time.

If the trial is successful, they will roll it out nationwide. That would mean there wouldn't any plastic bag options available across all of the retailer’s 494 stores, saving 90 million plastic bags annually — the equivalent of 3,510 tonnes of plastic per year, the company said

"We believe customers are ready to stop using plastic carrier bags as they want to reduce the amount of plastic they have in their lives and keep it out of the environment," Morrisons’ chief executive David Potts told reporters. "We know that many are taking reusable bags back to store and, if they forget these, we have paper bags that are tough, convenient, and a reusable alternative."

Morrisons said the new paper bags will have handles strong enough to carry up to 16kg worth of shopping, the equivalent of 13 bottles of wine.

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It is the latest in a push from retailers to reduce single-use plastic. In 2019, Sainsbury’s removed plastic bags for loose fruit, vegetables, and bakery items, saying it was the first UK supermarket to do so. And Tesco, the UK’s largest supermarket, has removed plastic bags from its online delivery services entirely.

The use of plastic bags has fallen dramatically since the government introduced a 5p cost for consumers buying a plastic bag for their shopping in 2015.

Between 2014 and 2020 the number of plastic bags given to customers at the larger supermarkets (Asda, Marks and Spencer, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s, the Co-operative Group, Tesco, and Waitrose) dropped by 95%, according to the figures from the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (Defra).

Defra said that the average person now buys four bags a year from these retailers, based on data on their latest analysis published in July 2020, compared to an average of 140 per person per year in 2014, just before the 5p charge was introduced.

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The production of plastic leaves behind a huge carbon footprint — and takes hundreds of years to break down. It’s estimated that around 8 million pieces of plastic enters the ocean every day. 

According to Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a UK charity that works with governments and businesses to increase recycling rates, around 40% of all plastic use in the UK comes from packaging, generating approximately 2.4 million tonnes per year of waste.

But WRAP says that recycling plastic rather than discarding it after one use can make a huge difference in terms of its environmental impact. For example, recycling 1 tonne of plastic bottles saves around 1.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide.

However, only around 50% of plastic drinks bottles are recycled in the UK, while just 12-15% of "mixed plastics" — such as plastic pots or cling film — are recycled, the charity says.