Retailers across Queensland and Western Australia are getting ready to move away from lightweight plastic bags with state-wide bans coming into effect from 1 July this year.
Paper bags are fast becoming a popular carry bag alternative, but is paper really better than plastic? And are all paper bags suitable for retail use?
The National Retail Association explored this debate with Detmold Group’s General Manager of Marketing & Innovation, Mr Tom Lunn, to find out whether paper bags really do offer sustainable and practical solutions for retailers. The Detmold Group own paper packaging manufacturers, PaperPak and Detpak.
Strength vs Sustainability
One concern about paper bags is that they’re thought to be weaker than plastic bags.
Actually, according to Mr Lunn, paper bags are quite strong and can out-perform their plastic equivalents when made with quality material.
“Our paper bags carry between 10 and 18 kilograms,” he said.
“Where paper bags have been made with high levels of recycled paper themselves, they can be weakened during the recycling processes.”
“Retailers and food suppliers need to think about what they need the bag to hold, and whether they would like customers to be able to reuse the bags multiple times.”
“We offer both sustainably-sourced raw material and high levels of recycled fibres in our carry bags, to give our customers options in the reliability, reusability and strength of their bags.”
Bags made from raw materials do raise the issue of sustainability. According to Mr Lunn, these days, many retailers want to know that their packaging is sourced ethically but many don’t verify their supplier’s credentials.
“PaperPak and Detpak paper bags use ethically sourced, quality raw material made in manufacturing facilities which hold PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) and FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) Chain of Custody certification,” he said.
Food and wet products
Another concern for paper bags is that they’re not suitable for wet products or food that might leak or drinks which have condensation on them.
“A paper bag made from quality material can even handle condensation from groceries,” Mr Lunn said.
“The bag’s natural strength provides an environmentally friendly and reliable option for consumers.”
Paper bags come in a range of styles, sizes, colours and weights. They can be printed with branding, or be stamped or stickered for a different look. Both offer styles with or without handles that could be diecut or attached.
Plastic bags tend to be cheaper than paper bags however the cheapest of these (lightweight single-use plastic shopping bags) are now banned in much of Australia. Paper bags range from a few cents to a few dollars depending on size, handles and other branding decisions.
Some retailers are looking at moving to paper as a way and introducing a small bag fee to cover costs and some are donating a portion of the fee to an environmental charity.
Paper bags are the fastest growing choice for carry bags largely due to changes in consumer perception, and retailers wanting to present a more ethically-minded brand.
Mr Lunn said that consumers were looking for a more ‘natural’ or ‘eco’ option.
“There’s been a huge shift in consumer perception over the past decade, with bag bans and ‘plastic-free’ campaigns becoming the norm,” he said.
“Our customers are aware of these trends and want to make sure they make ethical packaging choices as this may affect consumer loyalty and satisfaction.”
End of life – recycling and composting
Paper bags are an environmentally-friendly alternative to plastic shopping bags as they can be recycled and composted, while leaving minimal residue in the environment.
Mr Lunn said that consumers can easily recycle paper bags by popping them in their recycling bin at home.
“Most people pop them in the yellow binbut these bags can also be reused or composted,” he said.
In comparison, there are differing views about the end of life disposal for plastic bags. Currently less than 4 per cent of plastic bags are recycled, with most going to landfill, or worse, being littered and ending up in our oceans or landscapes.
These days there are more options for plastic bags to be recycled – you can place these into one of the RedCycle bins outside most major supermarkets. The recycled material is then used to become products like park benches or garden furniture. Soft plastic recycling does, however, still rely on customers taking their bags to be recycled and companies being interested in purchasing the recycled material.
Paper and plastic bags both offer a wide range of style, colours and styles, and they both handle heavy and wet products well. Both can be printed and branded, though paper bags can also be stamped.
While plastic shopping bags are often the cheaper choice, paper bags such as those offered by PaperPak and Detpak, offer substantial advantages when it comes to reusability, sustainability, quality of raw materials, ease of recycling, compostability, and, importantly, consumer perception. Given these advantages, quality paper bags may offer better value for money overall.
Please note: the advice provided on this website is designed to assist retailers in understanding the ban and weighing up options but is by no means exhaustive. Each retail business should assess and make decisions based on their own advice and situation.
Detmold Group is a proud sponsor of the NRA’s QLD BAG BAN Retailer Transition Program.