Morrisons has announced that it’s trialling the launch of a large paper bag in England, Wales, Scotland, and Gibraltar — to help its customers with their primary environmental concern: plastic pollution.
As well as bringing in the paper shopping bag — to give shoppers the option between paper and plastic bags — the supermarket chain will also be raising the price of plastic bags, from 10p to 15p.
The paper bags — which can be reused and recycled — will cost shoppers 20p.
“These new paper bags do exactly the same job as standard plastic carrier bags,” said Andy Atkinson, Morrisons’ group customer and marketing director. “They are tough, reusable, and can help keep a large amount of plastic out of the environment.”
According to Morrisons, cutting down plastic is the top environmental concern of its shoppers, which has sparked a series of actions to help reduce plastic use.
Last year, for example, Morrisons brought in paper bags for loose fruit and veg — for which 150 million small plastic bags are used annually.
The supermarket chain also ditched its 5p plastic bags last year, which led to a 25% fall in use, according to the Guardian.
But there is concern that paper bags aren’t actually more environmentally-friendly than plastic in terms of production.
Waitrose, for example, has said “it can take three times more energy to make a paper bag than a plastic one,” when justifying its decision not to introduce a paper bag.
Those in favour of paper bags say, however, that the lasting impact of paper bags is significantly less — given that plastic bags can take hundreds of years to decompose.
And environmental campaigners seem to agree.
“We welcome this — especially if they scale up from a trial," Julian Kirby, waste and resources campaigner at Friends of the Earth, told the Guardian. “What stands out is that the bags are designed to be reused and will be less resource intensive to produce than the heavier duty tote bags and fully recyclable.”
But he added: “It would be better still if they were made from recycled material themselves.”
The paper bags will at first only be available in eight of the 493 Morrisons stores in the UK — at least until the supermarket explores rolling out the trial across the country.
In London, they’ll be available in Camden and Wood Green; in Yorkshire, in Skipton, Hunslet, and Yeadon; Erskine in Scotland; Abergavenny in Wales; and also in Gibraltar.
The plastic bag tax was first brought in in Wales in 2011; then Northern Ireland in 2013; Scotland brought in the charge for all carrier bags in 2014; and in England, it was rolled out in 2015, according to the BBC.
And it has proved incredibly effective. In 2014, before the tax was introduced, England used over 7.6 billion plastic bags — working out at about 140 bags per person, reported the BBC.
By 2017/8, however, the seven leading supermarket chains in the UK — Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Asda, M&S, the Co-op, and Waitrose — sold just over 1 billion plastic bags, according to government figures.
That’s a fall of about 86%.
And to keep the good progress going, Environment Secretary Michael Gove has launched a government consultation on plastic bags.
As part of this, the government is talking about raising the levy to 10p a bag in England, and also including smaller shops in the initiative. Currently, the tax in England only applies to stores with more than 250 employees.
It's believed that over 3.6 billion single-use plastic bags are supplied annually by small and medium-sized businesses, according to the government. While some small retailers have launched voluntary charges, they aren't obliged to by law, and these are less than 20% of England's small and medium businesses.
But by expanding the initiative to include smaller shops, too, it would bring England in line with Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.