Excess packaging Packaging FAQs

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This article, Excess packaging, was last updated on 08 September 2010 and is now out of date and held in our online archive for reference. Explore our latest Home & garden articles.

Are paper carrier bags a greener option than plastic ones?

paper carrier bags

Paper bags use more resources to produce than plastic

Paper bags are often hailed as a greener alternative to plastic ones, but although paper degrades more quickly than plastic and comes from a renewable source, it’s no more beneficial to the environment overall.

Paper bags use between four and six times more energy to produce, are six times heavier and take up to ten times more space. This means significantly higher carbon emissions during their transportation and production.

As most paper comes from tree pulp, the impact of on forests if all bags were made from paper would be enormous.

What’s the difference between degradable and biodegradable carrier bags?

Both types are designed to break down much more quickly than conventional plastic bags, but different materials mean they do this in different ways.


Degradable bags contain additives that help them break down when exposed to sunlight or air. Most degrade within 18 months, but it can take far longer if the bag is exposed to the cold or water.

Once a degradable bag has broken down, it can leave behind environmentally-harmful particles that pollute the natural environment.


Biodegradable bags are made from plant-based materials, and are designed to break down into carbon dioxide and water within a few months. Some types can also be composted in a garden compost bin.

The downside is biodegradable bags can still take years to break down if left in less-than-ideal conditions – eg if it’s too cold, wet or if there’s not enough air. Some experts also believe the resources needed for their manufacture add to the carbon footprint of carrier bags.

Why won’t my local kerb-side recycling scheme accept plastic food packaging?


Plastic packaging can be expensive for councils to recycle

Most of the 50-odd different types of plastic are recyclable, but many are worth relatively little in the wholesale recycling market.

The costs of collecting and storing recyclable goods can be high, so most councils concentrate on collecting heavier plastics which are worth more to recoup their costs.

There are also much fewer outlets for plastic food packaging, meaning even where councils could collect extra plastics, they may not have access to a reprocessor to pass the materials on to.

A survey by plastics recycling organisation Recoup found 75% of councils without a plastic collection scheme blame the cost.

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