"Outrageous greenwashing": Experts slam Morrison's decision to replace plastic bags for life with paper bags

The supermarket giant will make millions choosing profit over science

Morrisons’ decision to replace its plastic bags for life with “reusable paper bags” has been slammed as “outrageous greenwashing” by experts in the plastics field.

Starting in Scotland, Morrisons will phase out 100 million bags for life and replace them with reusable paper bags—despite numerous life cycle analysis studies that show reusable plastic bags are, in fact, the most environmentally-friendly option. A 2020 study revealed that the global warming potential of kraft paper bags is 80 times that of reusable plastic bags, while single-use plastic bags and cotton reusable bags is 10 times.

But fuck science, amirite?

Thanks to the hegemony of popular opinion, Morrisons is swapping out its environmentally-friendly bag for life for the worst option on the market—and charging customers 30p per bagful of increased emissions. The supermarket giant, which made €201 million in sales last year, claims the bags will be reusable, recyclable, water resistant and tear resistant. Hunter Bliss, printing engineer and founder of Pebble Printing Group, called the move “an obvious cash grab”.

“For an order of 1 million bags you’re looking at a price of 0.01 cents per bag. Their profit margin is going to be huge. On top of that, the fact that these bags are “tear” and “water” resistant means they are either coated or specially processed, making them way more damaging than plastic bags.

“They are just screwing over the environment to make a tonne of money.”

Could Morrisons be looking for a way to pump up profits after COVID-19 devastated their usual margin to a mere 201 million on 17.5 billion of sales? Charging consumers 30p for 100 million bags that cost just 0.01 to make could see the corporation rake in an easy 29 million—with the planet paying the real price.

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Scientist and plastics expert, Dr Chris DeArmitt, thinks Morrison is bowing to pressure from consumers: “Every single life cycle analysis study shows plastic bags are the greenest option. It would be insane ineptitude for the Morrison’s sustainability team to have not researched this—switching to paper harms the environment, but companies go along with what their customers want.

“The irony is that studies have shown eliminating plastic bags actually increases overall plastic consumption because bin liner sales go up, and the plastic of bin liners is heavier than your typical single-use plastic bag that people reuse in their bins.

“Even with the low recycling rates, science has repeatedly proven that plastic is the greenest material—anything else is pure fiction.”

This “pure fiction” is the result of a well-intentioned war on plastic pollution. Images of clogged rivers and trapped wildlife have galvanised the public’s rejection of the material which was originally chosen—particularly in the case of the plastic bag—as a sustainable alternative to paper. Life-cycle analysis studies consistently show that while plastic pollution is the horrifying final stage of a plastic bag’s cycle, its overall impact is less than that of a paper or cotton bag due to the smaller amount of natural resources and energy required for its production, namely water. Some environmentalists, like Hunter, think it unwise to squander a resource as vital as water on commodities when other options exist; just a few days ago, Kamala Harris warned that “in a short matter of time [wars] will be fought over water.”

The war against plastic has been hugely successful—in shifting blame from our culture of consumption to a synthetic material. Any individual, company or nation purporting to make environmental decisions whilst profiting from that very culture must not be trusted. Morrisons will make millions from its plastic-free campaign by charging customers to participate in environmental destruction. A few months ago, I revealed how Shopify is set to profit from its own sustainability policy. Hell, the Vice-President of the United States just told the world they will choose war over sustainability, although that was obvious the moment the US and UK invaded Iraq.

Consumer so often feel powerless, but, in actuality, those who want our votes and our money will shift with the tides to get it. Misinformation has driven the campaign back to paper—educated demands can drive us forward.

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