The health and beauty chain will remove 40m plastic bags a year from use, amounting to more than 900 tonnes of single-use plastic.
From Monday, 53 Boots stores will no longer offer plastic bags at checkouts, a policy that will be extended to all its 2,485 outlets by early next year.
Boots will charge customers for the new unbleached brown bags, even though they do not fall under the plastic bag tax, and will donate all profits to BBC Children in Need. Charges will be 5p, 7p and 10p, depending on size.
Greenpeace welcomed the move but said retailers should encourage customers to shop with their own reusable bags.
“If our oceans had a doctor, what they would order is a drastic cut in the amount of single-use plastic in circulation. So it’s great to see a major high street brand like Boots listening to public concerns and ditching plastic bags,” said Louise Edge, the head of Greenpeace UK’s ocean plastics campaign.
“But retailers need to be careful that by swapping plastic for paper they don’t end up shifting the problem from our oceans to our forests. This is why as well as looking for new materials for their carrier bags, high street chains should also encourage their customers to bring their own reusable bags and truly tackle the throwaway culture that’s damaging our living world.”
Helen Normoyle, the director of marketing at Boots UK, said: “We have seen a significant shift in our customers’ attitudes towards plastics and recycling in recent years.
“Our new paper bags have been carefully tested to make sure that, over their entire life cycle, they are better for the environment, whilst still being a sturdy, practical option for customers who haven’t brought their own bags with them when shopping.”
The Boots managing director, Sebastian James, said: “Plastic waste is undoubtedly one of the most important issues around the world today, with TV shows like Blue Planet highlighting the effects of plastic pollution … The move to unbleached paper bags is another pivotal moment in that journey.
“There is no doubt that our customers expect us to act and this change signifies a huge step away from our reliance on plastic.”
Boots has recently come under fire from Greenpeace and customers for using plastic bags to package some of its prescriptions. Last August, the company signed up to the UK Plastics Pact, a voluntary pledge by the retail industry to reduce single-use plastic packaging.
Earlier this year, Morrisons started trialling large paper bags for groceries and raised the price of its plastic bags by 50%. Tesco moved to stop selling single-use 5p carrier bags in its UK stores in 2017 and instead offers shoppers reusable “bags for life” for 10p.
Plastic bag sales at England’s big seven supermarkets have dropped by 86% since the government introduced its 5p plastic bag charge in 2015, according to the latest figures.
The data, published in July 2018 but due to be updated shortly, shows customers bought nearly 300m fewer bags in 2017-18 compared with the previous year. This is equivalent to 19 per person in England, compared with 140 when the charge was brought in.
Other retailers have taken steps to reduce their use of plastic. Earlier this month, Waitrose announced a trial at a supermarket in Oxford, where customers can buy food and drink free of packaging.
McDonald’s is replacing plastic straws with paper straws in the UK and the supermarket group Iceland has vowed to eliminate plastic packaging for all its own-brand products by 2023.
However, retailers have been criticised for not acting sooner and moving more quickly to drastically reduce their use of plastic and packaging.
As well as polluting the world’s oceans, the production of single-use plastic accelerates climate change, a report by the Center for International Environmental Law warned last month.
Trewin Restorick, the chief executive and co-founder of the environmental charity Hubbub, said: “Boots is another in the growing line of retailers that has been forced to recognise that Blue Planet has fundamentally changed the way customers view the way they use plastics. Hopefully retailers will respond by reducing the amount of unnecessary plastics they use.”
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