Is the paper bag ready for a comeback?

All around the world, but most especially in the United States, government-sponsored initiatives are imposing charges on the plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and other major retailers. It’s part of a drive to reduce the amount of waste in landfills and to stop the bags escaping into the natural environment where they are a danger to animals. In most cases, consumers have one of three options available to them:

1) Pay the charge, often between 5p-10p. Not much, but when you’re doing a big shop and you have a tight budget, it can add up.

2) Take your own reusable bag with you. Unquestionably the best option as they are very durable, but unfortunately they tend to be forgotten and left at home, meaning people need to buy a replacement, often costing more than £1.

3) There may be paper bags available at no cost.

Now, paper bags have been part of the retail landscape for well over a century. The common design of the paper grocery bag was invented in the late nineteenth century by Margaret Knight. But during the twentieth century, the manufacture of cheap plastic bags meant that paper bags fell out of favour among most retailers, and customers, who saw them as less sturdy and resilient, especially in bad weather. Paper bags became mostly the preserve of small grocers and specialist shops. It’s been estimated that approximately 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year.

The times they are a changing, though. Plastic bag use is beginning to fall, largely as a result of the aforementioned government schemes and a growing awareness among consumers of the problems they cause. And it’s not just resuable bags that are taking up the slack. More and more retailers are taking another look at paper bags. Today’s paper bag is a different beast – they can be made extremely durable, to the point where a small rain shower won’t destroy them. Plus they’re strong enough to carry quite heavy goods.

Reusable bags get a lot of attention today, but paper bags are also making a comeback, and with many stylish design options available, expect to see a lot more of them on the high street.

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