Boots to ban plastic bags and switch to brown paper carriers

Boots will phase out all plastic bags from its stores by 2020, replacing them with brown paper bags.

The move will remove from use 40m plastic bags a year, amounting to 900 tonnes of single-use plastic.

The switch begins on Monday when 53 of the health and beauty chain’s stores will no longer offer plastic bags and will be extended to all of Boots’s 2,485 outlets by early next year.

Boots will charge customers for the new unbleached brown bags, even though they do not fall under under the plastic bag tax, but will donate all profits to BBC Children in Need. Charges will be 5p, 7p and 10p, depending on size.

Boots paper bags

The Boots paper bags will cost 5p, 7p and 10p, depending on size. Photograph: Boots

The Boots managing director, Sebastian James, said: “Plastic waste is undoubtedly one of the most important issues around the world today with TV shows like Blue Planet highlighting the effects of plastic pollution … the move to unbleached paper bags is another pivotal moment in that journey.

“There is no doubt that our customers expect us to act and this change signifies a huge step away from our reliance on plastic.”

Why the sudden focus on plastics?

Mankind produces roughly its entire body weight in plastics every year. But the vast majority of it is either not recycled, unrecyclable, or doesn’t get reused once it’s been recycled. Volumes ending up in the natural environment are surging. Plastic can take as much as 500 years to decompose.

What are the implications?

Plastic is ubiquitous – and often deadly. It kills sea creatures that eat it but cannot digest it. It gets into the human food chain by contaminating the fish that we eat. It is even in our tap water. There is no science about the long-term impact of humans ingesting plastic.

What is to be done?

Taxing plastic bags – or even banning them outright as Kenya has done – has changed consumer and producer behaviour. But what next? Deposit return schemes for plastic bottles work well in several countries. Charging for one-time coffee cups also seems to be on the agenda. But the real solutions may not be top down but …

… bottom up?

Yes. Grassroots movements led the way on plastic bags, and have spawned others such as Refill, which emphasises reusing bottles, and A Plastic Planet, which urges plastic-free aisles in supermarkets. Popular culture remains hugely important: it’s just possible that the British series The Blue Planet has changed attitudes overnight.

Photograph: Zakir Chowdhury/Barcroft Images/Barcroft Media

Boots has recently come under fire from Greenpeace and customers for using plastic bags to package some of its prescriptions. Last August, the company signed up to UK Plastics Pact, a voluntary pledge by the retail industry to cut single-use plastic packaging.

Boots’s move comes after Waitrose announced a trial at a supermarket in Oxford, where customers can buy food and drink free of packaging. The refillable options, for products including wine, beer, rice and cleaning materials, are typically 15% cheaper than the packaged alternatives.

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Retailers have been criticised for not acting sooner to reduce use of plastic and packaging.

Use of plastic bags has fallen sharply since the government introduced a 5p charge on plastic carrier bags in October 2015. Tesco moved to stop selling single-use 5p carrier bags in its UK stores in 2017 and instead offers shoppers reusable “bags for life” for 10p.

As well as polluting the world’s oceans, the production of single-use plastic accelerates climate change, a report by the Center for International Environmental Law warned last month.


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