Sally can barely see over the top of a hefty paper bag full of shopping because she is carrying it from the base. It is rush hour and people walk swiftly in the opposite direction, which turns taking groceries home into a high-stakes survival game. It starts to rain. While concentrating on navigating the tide of pedestrians, Sally cannot put up her brolly to stop the rain disintegrating her carrier.

Marketing shopping bags needs to cover the environmental impact and provenance – Startupguys.net

Then she slips on a wet paving stone and the sudden movement sends a pack of bacon flying. She lays the bag softly on her feet and replaces the bacon, but as she gets her grip at the bottom of the bag it tears and so, holding it like a nervous dog, she slowly gets her shopping to her front door.

Is this a familiar scene? I feel as if it has featured in a few American movies. “Getting the paper bag of shopping home” provides a decent enough jeopardy to convey the daily challenges of ordinary characters.

Dispensing with the Competition

It seems as if we are amidst a paper versus plastic packaging war. I dreaded the day when UK retailers would start putting our shopping in paper bags, but now it is here. The press and environmental organisations have been busy demonising plastic. Not to say the petrochemical industry hasn’t made it’s own messes with public understanding of it’s products.

However, demonisation of a rival material, instead of an industry focusing on what it does best is not new. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, sugar did not think it could muscle onto our plates without barging natural dietary fats totally off the menu, so food needed artificial flavour and sugar to sell.

Imagine the fish, beans, chicken and dairy don’t exist? We are left with more foods, which increase glucose and insulin production and absorb nutrients from our gut – Image by Welcome to all and thank you for your visit ! ツ from Pixabay

Today, sugar is listed on many ingredients lists for savoury foods, where you would not expect to find it. Sugar is addictive and forces our livers into glucose production, which means our kidneys then have to produce insulin to remove it from our blood stream.

Sugar rots our teeth and bones and makes us eat more, because it contains none of the micronutrients we need and we seem not digest food when our livers are busy producing glucose to deal with substances such as sugar, starch, lactose, alcohol or caffeine. Lactose, sucrose and maltose are dissacharide carbohydrates, which require related enzymes to break down before they are digested into our systems. More complex carbs require even more enzyme breakdown.

Plastic Versus Paper

How does this relate to paper? It is where one industry, ie paper, seems to compete on all fronts against its direct rival, ie plastic. The impact of these all out wars seems to be that the consumer is a pawn in a very heated game of chess playing alongside government, media, organisations, campaigners and their satelites, such as front groups, all with an axe to grind.

It seems to me that for a digital society, there is still unnecessary paper around and unrecyclable paper-based products with questionable eco claims. The postman still brings plastic coated leaflets, which mostly sell junk food, which I never eat. Envelopes frequently have plastic windows, which require separation to recycle.

Companies that demonstrate their concern for the environment by using only essential resources and communicating effectively would win many of today’s eco-aware consumers – Image by bluebudgie from Pixabay

What are emails, websites and social media for, if not to provide ways to reach and engage your customers? Focusing on clearly signposted e-commerce processes so new customers experience smooth transactions buying your products online or coming to see you does not require expensive printed papers.

Paper bags do not get re-used. For one thing, they are bulky to fold up and put in your bag or pocket. Re-usable bags, which can be rolled, folded and poppered into a small bundle may take a little time to be worked into a routine, but they can reduce the amount of new bags used for shopping.

Supermarkets charging for stronger Bags For Life did not have the environmental benefit intended, as many people had been using free plastic shopping bags for waste disposal. The less conveniently portable a shopping bag, the less likely it will make it out the door after its first use.

Tissue paper is less recyclable than cardboard or uncoated papers – NRDC – Corporate Honest and Climate Change – Time to Own Up and Act

The Diffusion of Innovation

It does seem as if human behaviour gets either forgotten or factored out of corporate planning, whichever seems most profitable in the short-term. Therefore, I will include human behaviour in the context of environmental impacts from packaging materials.

Firstly, there is the Diffusion of Innovation (1962), identified by Everett Rogers, which shows how new ideas spread through populations, starting with Innovators, then Early Adopters followed by the Early and Late Majority and finally the Laggars.

Notice the word “innovation”, because that is something which the world of money-making forgets. Therefore, they don’t consider how trends in human behaviour work with new ideas.

For the COVID-19 response, the UK government ignored and shut out innovators and early adopters to speak directly to the majority, as the Leave campaign had done to fire up the ironically phony idea of “Take Back Control”, just when the British public would be downgraded to mere economic units in micro-targeting experiements with social media. By speaking to the majority, the UK government enlisted a huge army of police to enforce hand washing, staying at home and mask wearing until innoculation was ready. By using influencers, a much sharper and more effective mass response would have been possible.


With the current urgency on reducing our impact by minimising carbon emissions, deforestation, uses of water and energy and promoting re-use, recycling and making end-of-life disposal efficient and sustainable, greenwashing is highly counter-productive.

Thinking about what we need for each task can reduce waste – Photo by Scott Graham on Unsplash

Marketing hype combined with lack of industrial regulation is used to engage and exploit consumer’s growing interest in caring for nature and ‘green’ ethics. 

Pack Help – taking the angle of reducing food waste by extending shelf life to promote their p roduct is innovative

Greenwashing can be a relatively broad term, but in summary: it is when a company or individual provides misinformation or hides correct information in order to make people believe their brand or products are better for the planet. 

Last Object – being aware of this is a start. However, competing industries can accuse each other to through us off the scent.

My investigation is into whether the wood, pulp and paper industry is blaming its competitive rival plastic for destroying the environment, while its own sustainability credentials are questionable. Is the answer to compel industries to stick within proven sustainability targets, which can be independently assessed?

There is a waste management problem. Manufactureres need to be honest and take responsibility instead of blaming consumers and their competitiors – How Big Oil Misled the Public Into Believing Plastic Would Be Recycled – NPR 11/09/2020

If these key indicators show the costs, emissions, energy use and consumer awareness for a range of industrial activity from petrol fleets, in-house computer systems, processing plants, chemical use, disposal etc, then companies wishing to reduce their environmental impact can create projects and targets to reduce their emissions, sewage, use of resources and energy.

It seems as if blaming consumers and end-users is all the rage amongst industries, who want to deflect attention away from their own activities and environmental impact. Media covaerage about huge areas of ocean and fields full of recycling, choking wild life, which make consumers cynical about disposal time and effort over their household rubbish. Can post-consumer packaging being littered account for all of that? Are corporates being transparent about how they dispose of household and industry waste?

This LinkedIn article by Paulius Bukšnys suggests that packaging manufacturers would dupe us if we buy their produce.

Forests naturally have bio-diversity and mass deforestation has destabilized the climate – Image by FelixMittermeier from Pixabay

Honesty and transparency would mean that we could all work together to innovate ways to transform how things are produced, transported, packaged, sold, used, recycled and disposed of to avoid unnecessary damage to the environment. This expert blog by Joshua Axelrod for NRDC talks about how corporate honesty is a crucial step towards protecting our planet from climate change.

In 2011 a research paper produced by the Northern Ireland Assembly said it “takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.”

BBC Business (2019), which also quoted Morrisons who have introduced a 20p paper carrier bag in their stores:

“Morrisons insists there is no reason its paper bag cannot be reused as many times as the plastic one it is replacing, although it depends on how the bag is treated.”

BBC Business (2019) – Plastic or Paper – Which Bag is Greener?

Unlocking the Circular Economy

Although the shopping bag market is not as big as packaging, it is still sizeable enough to be a highly competitive segment.

According to the Fung Scholars Association, in China, total retail sales of consumer goods jumped by 9.3% year-on-year to USD 3,928.62 billion in the third quarter of 2018.

Read More at:-Fortune Business Insights Shopping Bag Market Report Summaries Detailed Information By Top Playesr As Earthwise Bags Company Inc., Mato & Hash, PLANET.E, Creative Green Life, among others

Short term profit must not come before nature – Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

It seemed to me that the paper shopping bag was prevalent on American made TV and films and now paper bags are offered for free, while more resilient and re-usable plastic bags cost from 5p to 20p. However, use of single-use plastic bags in supermarkets dropped by 90% when a charge was introduced. I am all for paying for plastic bags myself. I am not into paper bags.

The Alliance to End Plastic Waste have taken a broader view, which I think is fact-based and objective. It suggests how we can generate a circular economy through waste management systems for end-of-life plastics to put them back into the economy as a recyclable and resellable commodity. The Alliance cites  A study conducted last year by the Nanyang Technological University.

Assistant Professor Grzegorz Lisak, who led the research, said: “Our main message is that reusable plastic bags are the best option, provided they are re-used many times.”

“In a well-structured, closed metropolitan waste management system with incineration treatment, using plastic bags may be the best option that is currently available, provided that there is no significant leakage of waste into the environment.”

Read more at Today Online, Plastic Bags More Eco-Friendly than Paper or Cotton Bags.

Alternative to Shop and Drops in Supermarkets

Even though fresh food has gone up in price and food diversity has narrowed, the most cost-effective and environmental beneficial way to protest over-use of plastic food packaging is to shop local.

Street markets involve very little packaging and many shoppers take their own bags – Image by Photo Mix from Pixabay

There has been innovation to use less packaging for food, but methane emissions from food waste is a bigger pollutant than plastic, which could be recycled or incinerated for energy. Supermarkets have sensibly introduced recycling bins for bags and packaging in their stores.

We are not informed about what happens to our recycling once it is collected. Lack of information creates division and heated debate. All sorts of theories and narratives have been created to fill the gaps. As the Alliance to End Plastic Waste say, plastic has played an important part in many areas of our lives.

In many applications, plastic is virtually irreplaceable because it is cheap, strong, lightweight, and resistant to corrosion. The most common uses of plastic are in packaging and building components, such as piping. In the medical industry, plastic is often key to contamination and infection control. Syringes, pipettes and gloves used in healthcare and biomedical research cannot be reused. While the excessive use of plastic packaging is concerning, some form of packaging is often necessary to maintain the hygiene or freshness of food, or maintain the integrity of a product during freight. Small or travel-size toiletries and personal hygiene products are sometimes seen as wasteful, but are vital in providing affordable sanitation options for some of our most vulnerable communities, such as the homeless or low-income families. With an estimated 70% of the world’s population living on less than US$10 a day, toiletries in single-serve sachets provide an affordable sanitation option in developing markets.

Alliance to End Plastic Waste – 22 March 2021 – The Plastic Waste Problem Explained
Only a few steps for humankind to find solutions by working together – Image by WikiImages from Pixabay

My conclusion is that the paper industry is not transparent about its production cycle. Woood products including pulp for paper is one of the 4 biggest drivers of deforestation, alongside soy, palm oil and – the biggest – cattle ranching to supply fast food production. To reduce the overall carbon footprint of packaging and carrier bags, we need to compare a range of environmental factors, including source, water, energy, chemicals, industrial waste, use and resilience, recycling as well as weight and bulk on landfill and decomposition. Paper bags and using papers in food packaging does not overall provide a benefit to the environment.

To sell paper shopping bags and packaging as an environmental benefit, in my view, is greenwashing. This has concerned me for sometime, as media articles and TV programs seem to put the blame on consumers, to deflect away from corporate activities.

Rising temperatures increases the fire risk without deforestation – Image by Ria Sopala from Pixabay

The Amazon Rainforest is now producing more CO2 emissions than it sinks. Wood, pulp and paper production from trees accounts for some of this. Therefore, how sustainable is paper production? A paper shopping bag may not even make the trip home. However, if someone takes their own bag to the shops, it is highly unlikely to be a paper bag, which means their lifespan is limited.

Consumers are getting better at recycling, but lack of information about where collections end up creates a wide-open opportunities for theories to fill the gap. Yes, we need a solution to plastics in the atmosphere and oceans and need to prevent it choking wildlife and pollution. Collaborations, innovation, projects, targets and iniatives could do that.

Here is a green growth plan proposed during COP26 for companies to reduce their carbon footprint to be net zero by 2050. Spanish companies have been working together and leading the way, which means other countries can follow by appealing to politicians to support companies, which reduce their emissions. Click here for more information and to get the Guide.

A guide from the Spanish Green Growth Group – Spanish companies set lead by reducing their emissions – COP26 in Glasgow

Corporates working on their own, using marketing hype and lack of government regulation to play on people’s care of the environment to sell products and dispense of competition works against the environment.

Looking after the planet has been urgent for sometime and now we need to act together instead of argue and disrespect each other.

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