Boots paper bags: Backlash over 'token gesture'

Boots paper bags in a shop

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The new paper bags will initially be available in 53 of 2,485 stores, and Boots has pledged that all of them will use paper by early 2020

Boots has been accused of hypocrisy for making a high-profile switch to paper shopping bags after introducing plastic bags for some prescriptions.

One customer, who took a plastic prescription bag back to a store with “SHAME ON YOU!” written on it, said she would continue to boycott Boots.

Others told the BBC paper bags were a “marketing ploy” or “token gesture”.

However, Boots said it was looking at alternatives to the plastic prescription bags too.

“Removing plastic carrier bags from our stores will remove 900 tonnes of plastic from our supply chain – this is more than 18 times the amount that we use in total in our pharmacy bags each year,” the Nottingham-based company said in a statement.

‘Ignored pleas’

Roisin Moriarty, who was among customers to complain to Boots about its use of plastic, said the paper bags were “a classic case of paying lip service while not really caring”.

Ms Moriarty previously wrote “SHAME ON YOU!” and “PAPER, NOT PLASTIC!” on her plastic prescription bag in black marker pen before returning it to Boots.

“They’ve ignored the pleas from environmental agencies and customers to reverse their plastic packaging for prescriptions policy,” she said.

“Regardless of the new paper bags elsewhere, which is brilliant, that’s still many thousands of plastic wrappers per day. I won’t be shopping at Boots again until that regressive decision is reversed.”

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Bob Knightley

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Customers have been complaining to Boots after receiving their prescriptions in paper bags

Concerns about Boots’ use of plastic prescription bags were raised last month after customers started complaining to the company. Boots uses the sealed plastic bags for repeat prescriptions assembled at its “Dispensing Support Pharmacy” (DSP) in Preston.

Boots then announced it was switching to paper shopping bags on Monday, with profits going to BBC Children in Need. However, Boots said it had been looking for ways to change its use of plastic before last month’s stories.

Boots said in a statement: “Central dispensing accounts for a very, very small proportion of our total dispensing; the overwhelming majority of our prescriptions are still dispensed in stores in paper bags, and we’re making these even more environmentally friendly by moving to unbleached brown paper dispensing bags from September.

“Boots’ centralised pharmacy is actively looking at alternative packaging options including cellulose, potato starch and a paper solution.”

Bob Knightley, who has also previously complained to Boots, said he was “not impressed” by the latest move.

“Perhaps they should have looked into alternatives to plastic before introducing the central pharmacy,” he said.

“It doesn’t matter how recyclable their plastic bags might be if they aren’t recycled and end up polluting the environment.”

Boots UK signed up to the UK Plastics Pact last year and said at the time it was “committed to reducing single-use plastic”.

Lorna Fielker said she welcomed Boots moving from plastic shopping bags but said it “seemed like a tokenistic gesture in response to bad publicity”.

“At best it will only mitigate the additional plastic being created due to centralisation of dispensing,” she said.

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Boots’ plastic bags come in 5p and 10p size but the paper ones will cost 5p, 7p or 10p

Paper bags decompose much more quickly than plastic ones, but research has suggested they use four times as much energy to produce, and use more energy to transport because they are heavier.

Amanda Colledge said Boots were “trying to get positive publicity for switching from plastic to paper bags at the checkout” and it “feels like a marketing ploy which doesn’t address the problem of plastic in the environment”.

Liz Jones said she picked up two prescriptions on Friday and they were still in plastic bags.

She said the paper shopping bags were “a step forward but we are still watching and will continue to object”.

Michelle Makita said Boots were “completely missing the point of the prescription bags and I think this central dispensary needs to be addressed”.

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