Given the versatility of paper and its strong environmental credentials, it is no wonder that we often hear of new and innovative products that utilise this well-loved and widely recycled material.

However, sometimes things can come full circle, but still seem like a radical idea to many. That is probably true for large paper bags, sometimes referred to as US style paper sacks, which haven’t been seen in any great numbers in UK supermarkets since the 1970’s.

When Morrisons recently announced that it is to trial large paper bags that can be reused by shoppers we, at the Confederation of Paper Industries, were keen to show our support and we issued a statement on our website and Twitter feed accordingly.

Although the trial involves just eight stores and consumers will be charged 20p per paper bag, it will be interesting to see how many shoppers take advantage of this opportunity. We hope that shoppers who use these stores take advantage of the trial and go on to use the bags on multiple occasions before placing them into a recycling container for collection from their home.

Of course, not everyone looks at the world through the same lens and sometimes things are simply not black and white. So, whilst it goes without saying that members of CPI and PITA are fully ready to embrace the many benefits of using paper for products such as shopping bags, others can be sceptical of change.

And so, despite people across the country uniting against the scourge of plastic littering land and sea, the ever-inquisitive approach of the media led the BBC to try and find an answer to the question ‘which bag is greener, paper or plastic’?

Finding an answer to something as subjective as ‘greener’ and with bag-related factors as diverse as how often they are/may be (re)used, how easy they are to be recycled, what happens if they are littered and how much energy is used in the creation of the bags was never going to be straight forward. CPI engaged with the BBC, making representations to ensure that the article was balanced; however, it is likely that similar questions will come in the future as the green debate continues across products, services and life in general!

Sustainable Paper
Of course, compared with plastic bags, the use of paper bags, particularly from renewable sources, has many advantages for the environment, as they are biodegradable, compostable and so easy to recycle. In this case Morrisons say the paper bags will be 100% sourced from forests that are managed responsibly and the bag is expected to be robust.

And UK consumers are increasingly aware that discarded plastic bags, the majority of which are still being made from Polyethylene (which is made from oil), are commonly found in rivers, seas and on land, proving to be an ever-present danger to birds, animals and marine life. Even in landfill, they can take hundreds of years to break down.

Also, it is important to recognise that, after allowing for changes in production levels, figures show that the amount of EUETS-reported carbon dioxide emitted by UK paper mills (per tonne of production) continues to fall – by around a third in just ten years.

So, taking everything into account we vote for paper – how about you?