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Boots rolls out unbleached paper dispensing bags in 53 branches

The unbleached bags are made from recycled brown paper with water-based inks
The unbleached bags are made from recycled brown paper with water-based inks

Boots has introduced unbleached paper dispensing bags in 53 pharmacies, in a drive to improve sustainability.

The multiple's single-use plastic retail carrier bags and standard white paper medicine bags will be replaced by unbleached, Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-certified recycled brown paper, it announced today (June 24).

Boots claimed to be the first national pharmacy chain to use unbleached paper dispensing bags.

Dispensing hub

The health and beauty giant aims to roll out the brown, paper carrier bags to all 2,485 Boots branches across the UK by “early 2020”, it said. However, the multiple's Preston automatic dispensing hub – which serves 380 Boots pharmacies – will continue to use plastic bags for the medicines it dispenses for the time being.

Last month, Boots was forced to respond to backlash in the media over its use of plastic prescription bags via the dispensing hub. The multiple stressed at the time that the hub “uses bags that are 100% recyclable”, and that the plastic bags “mean we can deliver medicines to patients in a way that is safe, clean, dry and durable”.

Speaking about its hub to C+D today, Boots said is “actively looking at alternative packaging options, including compostable bags, potato starch and a paper solution, that still offer the same quality, but with improved environmental credentials”.

In the meantime, Boots will be “introducing bags that have been made from a minimum of 60% recycled plastic”, while continuing to find ways of “dramatically” reducing plastic usage.

Dispensing bags free of charge

Dispensing bags will remain free of charge, while paper carrier bags will cost 5p, 7p or 10p depending on their size, Boots explained.

Boots will donate “all profits” from the paper bags to charity partner BBC Children in Need, it said.

Plastic pollution

The multiple estimates that the switch to paper will remove 900 tonnes of plastic from Boots operations each year.

It decided to “prioritise” larger branches for the initial launch of brown paper bags to minimise the number of plastic bags being thrown away, Boots told C+D.

Seb James, senior vice-president and managing director of Boots UK, said the move is “another pivotal moment in the journey” towards reducing plastic pollution.

The new bags can be “easily recycled at home”, whereas the plastic dispensing bags used for medicines packaged at the dispensing hub can only be recycled through “carrier bag collection schemes” and in some local authority areas.

The health and beauty giant anticipates that will also launch “new packaging formats” by the end of 2019, and confirmed it is trialling “eliminating plastic mail bags, bubble wrap and plastic tape”.

This will “greatly reduce” the website’s “reliance on plastics”, it said.

What do you make of the new dispensing bags?

Community Pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Woohoo ...Good old Boots saving the planet after massively contributing to the plastic bag issue (as comments suggest, others were actively doing this since years ago)...Meanwhile in HQ, job cuts (including culling of any long term staff ,thought of as 'numbers' by the management ,whose benefits have simply grown far too high) are being meticulously planned in an effort to maintain unsustainable profit levels......Boots 'caring' for the Company/Planet ...Joke

Paul Knapton, Community pharmacist

"Boots claimed to be the first national pharmacy chain to use unbleached paper dispensing bags."

I would suggest this claim is incorrect, The Co-operative Pharmacy used unbleached white paper dispensing bags from when I qualified in 2007 until the sale of the business to Bestway.  Well continued to use unbleached paper bags, at least initially; I'm not sure if they still do now though.

Robert Evans, Community pharmacist

Staff in one pharmacy multiple got quite shirty with me on one occasion when I started bagging up dispensed and checked medicines into paper dispensing bags. The reason being that this particular multiple had got rid of all their shelves years ago and replaced them with rails upon which only single use plastic carrier bags could be hung. Absolutely everything (even a small box of aspirin) has to go into a plastic carrier bag. 

The local council has since confirmed that whilst paper dispensing bags would be recycled, plastic carrier bags either get incinerated or go into landfill. Does this major multiple care? 

Cod Fillet, Community pharmacist

That's Rowlands. I stopped using them as my pharmacy because of that.

C A, Community pharmacist

Surely that's the council's fault? polythene is pretty easy to recycle.

A Pharmer, Community pharmacist

I am a bit conflicted by this. All for us doing everything possible to minimise pollution. But why are they charging 5p for a non-durable recyclable product? You pay 5p for a bag after spending £50 on products, go out of the store to heavy rainfall, the bag soaks up and tears leaving you dealing with £50 worth of products which may become damaged on exposure to the elements and no bag. Maybe make this a discretionary donation to children in need instead?

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