Goodbye plastic bags for life as Marks & Spencer rolls out new paper bags

Last Updated: January 18, 2024By

Strong and robust Marks & Spencer (M&S)  paper bags replace plastic bags in all stores in the United Kingdom. It has more than 1,000 stores across the UK.


A Marks & Spencer store. Image credit: M&S media library

The new paper bags can carry up to six four-pint milk bottles, which gives an idea of their strength, durability and waterproofness. The bags are also certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).

This marks the end of the M&S “plastic bags for life” option in an attempt by the food and clothing retailer to reduce its environmental impact.

M&S follows the trail of other retailers such as Morrisons, Aldi and Waitrose who have also mostly ditched plastic and offers paper bags.

The new M&S paper bags were developed with the University of Sheffield and are produced using renewable energy from a hydro-powered paper mill in Scandinavia. Tests concluded that the bags could be used more than 100 times and fold into a backpack shape for easy storage.

There are two versions of the paper bags:

  • Regular paper bag for clothing and home
  • Strong version that can carry more than 15 kilograms

Victoria McKenzie-Gould, corporate affairs director for M&S, announced the launch of the paper bags and states:

For the vast majority who already reuse their own bags, which remains the most sustainable option, not a lot will change. But on the odd occasion when we will need to reach for one more bag, we’re pleased to be offering a mores sustainable option for customers.

Why are paper bags regarded as more sustainable than plastic bags?

Paper bags are often regarded as more sustainable than plastic bags for several reasons:

Biodegradability: Paper is biodegradable. This means that paper bags break down naturally in the environment, while plastic bags can take hundreds to thousands of years to degrade and even then, they may just break down into microplastics that persist in the environment.

Recyclability: Both paper and plastic bags can be recycled, but the recycling rates and processes differ. Paper bags have a relatively straightforward recycling process and tend to have higher recycling rates in many areas compared to plastic bags. On the other hand, only a small fraction of plastic bags get recycled, and many end up in landfills or littering the environment.

Raw Materials: Paper bags are primarily made from trees, a renewable resource. Managed properly, forests can be replanted, regrown, and harvested again. Plastic bags, meanwhile, are made from petroleum-based compounds, which are non-renewable and contribute to the depletion of fossil fuels and climate-change inducing global warming.

Carbon Footprint: Producing paper bags typically requires more energy and water and emits more greenhouse gases compared to producing plastic bags. However, the lifetime impact, especially when considering the challenges of plastic waste management and the release of methane from anaerobic decomposition in landfills, can make the overall footprint of plastic bags more detrimental in certain scenarios.

Environmental Impact of Litter: While both types of bags can become litter, the environmental impact of plastic bag litter is more prolonged and harmful. Plastic bags can choke marine life, clog waterways, and degrade into harmful microplastics, which enter the food chain and have widespread environmental and potential health impacts.

Reusability: Both paper and plastic bags can be reused, but they have different durability levels. While some might argue that plastic bags can often be reused more times than paper bags (due to moisture sensitivity and tear potential of paper), the growth in popularity of sturdier reusable bags made of cloth or other materials tends to overshadow this point in sustainability discussions.

As Victoria mentions above, the most sustainable choice is often reusable bags made from durable materials that can withstand many uses without falling apart. Reusable bags have a lower environmental impact over their lifetime when compared to single-use bags, be they paper or plastic.

What are your thoughts on the move by M&S? Will you be changing how you carry your groceries?

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About the Author: Tony Lopes

Tony is the founder and editor of He has completed solar certifications and courses through Green Solar Academy. Tony's goal is to see solar panels on every roof-top in South Africa and the adoption of EVs and renewable technology across the African continent.

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