Morrisons' paper bag switch is bad for global warming

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Morrisons' paper bag switch is bad for global warming

Postby Squire » 26 Jun 2018, 13:44

The absence of leadership is causing bad decisions.

Is this a wrong-headed decision?

Morrisons' paper bag switch is bad for global warming, say critics
Production and disposal of paper bags has greater climate impact than plastic, says Environment Agency

Adam Vaughan

Morrisons said its decision to move to paper bags was prompted by listening to its customers’ worries on pollution. Photograph: Mikael Buck/Morrisons
Experts have criticised Morrisons’ decision to switch from plastic to paper bags for fruit and vegetables, branding it a retrograde step for efforts to tackle climate change.

This week the supermarket ditched transparent plastic bags in favour of recyclable paper ones, in a move it said was prompted by customers’ worries over pollution. But the step is likely to have unintended consequences and trade one environmental challenge for another.

The Environment Agency found that paper carrier bags, across their lifecycle of production, use and disposal, had a greater global-warming impact than plastic ones. The agency’s study found paper ones were only better than plastic if they were used four or more times, but that was unlikely due to durability of paper bags.

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While the research was published seven years ago, the government’s top waste and recycling advisers, Wrap, said the findings were still relevant today.

Chris Goodall, an author and environmental expert, said: “This is a retrograde step, moving back to paper.”

He agreed the impact of plastic pollution on marine life was very serious, but said: “Most of the plastic in the sea comes from a small number of rivers, it does not come from me buying green beans in Morrisons.”

Compared to using plastic bags for loose fruit and vegetable, paper bags were a backwards step in climate and energy use terms, Goodall said. One reason for the greater climate impact is that using paper will lessen the life expectancy of produce, he argued, leading to more food waste in landfill, where it generates methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

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However, Friends of the Earth said that it welcomed Morrisons’ switch and that green issues other than climate change should be factored in.

Julian Kirby, a campaigner at the group, said: “The thing about climate change is because it’s such a huge worry it has eclipsed other very serious environmental and health concerns, and that would include … pollution.

“With a paper bag, if it escapes into the environment it will biodegrade very soon. That is not the case with a plastic one.”

The supermarket appeared aware of the trade-off, saying it had weighed the environmental impact of paper against the potential pollution from plastic.

“We have listened to customers and they are telling us that the overuse of plastic is the most important environmental issue for us to deal with,” a spokesperson said.
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