Bags Michael Stephen Column Recycling

Paper bags, Sweden abolishing its plastic bag tax and Recycling (FREE)

Today Michael talks about Paper Bags; Sweden abolishing its plastic bag tax; and Recycling. This is a FREE article


Marks & Spencer has become the latest retailer to drop plastic bags in favour of paper “because of concerns about the environment.” The new paper bags, rolled out from Friday, will be “super strong” and water resistant, the retailer said.

M&S is not the first retailer to offer paper bags in place of plastic. Boots announced in 2019 that it would phase out all plastic bags by the following year, replacing them with paper.

It may be that these retailers are responding to what they perceive to be customer demand, but this is leading them in the wrong direction and is not actually helping the environment.  Paper is not better for packaging than plastic – See Paper Bags


The Swedish government have announced plans to abolish Sweden’s plastic bag tax as from November 1, 2024.  They maintain that the tax carries certain drawbacks, including administrative costs and the potential promotion of alternative packaging consumption.

I have never been in favour of these bag taxes, which have spread rapidly around the world. They are attractive to politicians who are always keen to follow the latest craze, but instead of the very thin checkout bags provided free, we now have much thicker plastic bags from which the supermarket makes a profit. These thick bags are called “Bags for Life” but they are soon discarded, releasing an increased tonnage of plastic into the environment.

There is also, as the Swedish government recognises, the potential promotion of alternative packaging consumption.  The main beneficiary of this has been the paper industry, but paper is not better than plastic. Paper Bags  Other beneficiaries have been the companies who market plastic as “compostable” which does nothing to solve the problem of plastic litter, and does not even convert into compost.  See

The only problem with plastic bags is that if they escape into the open environment they can lie or float around for decades – but not if they are biodegradable.  See Why biodegradable?


According to the Los Angeles Times (24.8.23) recyclers do not want plastic bags. “They wind themselves around the idlers and pulleys of the conveyor belts, jam the bed knives in the shredders, get tangled in the shafts of the disc screens and snarl the parallel paddles of the ballistic separators.”

“If you vacuumed up a plastic bag, you’d probably have to take apart the whole machine to fix it. That’s what happens in recycling centers. The one in Burbank has to clear plastic bags from screens four times every day, on two dedicated 10-minute breaks and again for 30 minutes at lunch and at the end of the day. Phoenix’s city recycling center estimates it loses $1 million a year on bag extraction.”

If these bags are not going to be recycled it is irrelevant whether biodegradability has any effect on recycling  They are however more likely to end up in the open environment, so they need to be oxo-biodegradable.

Michael Stephen

Michael Stephen is a lawyer and was a member of the United Kingdom Parliament, where he served on the Environment Select Committee. When he left Parliament Symphony Environmental Technologies Plc. attracted his attention because of his interest in the environment. He is now Deputy Chairman of Symphony, which is listed on the AIM market of the London Stock Exchange, and is the founder and Chairman of the Biodegradable Plastics Association.

Earlier Postings in this Column

All articles from Michael Stephen

Interview with Michael Stephen

Questions and Answers on OXO-Biodegradability


The opinions expressed here by Michael Stephen and other columnists are their own, not those of

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: