DFI urges retailers to ‘think green’ on single-use plastic bag alternatives

By Andrew Pentol |


Retailers and brands are fast needing to reduce or remove single-use bags from their operation, says DFI.

Swiss hands-Free Shopping company Duty Free Innovation (DFI), believes retailers must understand all environmental factors when considering their sustainability strategy for shopping bags.

The message around sustainability in travel retail has never been greater, hence the decision of TRBusiness to join forces with sustainable business solution provider DFI to create a movement which is intended to help address these global environmental challenges with a particular focus on pollution caused by single-use plastics.

Following last week’s TFWA World Exhibition in Cannes, where the Travel Retail Sustainability Forum exhibited at the TFWA Innovation Lab, brands and retailers are likely to increase their efforts around this important topic.


According to sustainable bag supplier DFI, the role of shopping bags is one area which must be fully understood. DFI estimates the DF&TR industry gives away up to 10 billion single-use plastic bags and Security Tamper Evident Bags a year and believes the way shoppers carry purchases in the future is the biggest and possibly easiest opportunity to reduce the use of plastic in DF&TR.

The company indicates, however, that choosing alternatives to single-use plastic bags is not that straightforward and reveals it is already advising retailers and brands on the best decision for their businesses.

Simon Best, Vice President, DFI said: “The consumer backlash towards plastic bags, combined with growing legislation means retailers and brands are fast needing to reduce or remove single-use bags from their operation.

“Making the right choice, however, is not easy and using what are often perceived to be good alternatives such as cotton, compostable biopolymers or other materials are potentially more harmful to the environment than the bags they are replacing.”


According to DFI, there are several factors which must be considered when choosing the materials used for shopping bags. The full lifecycle of the bag must be considered including the below elements.

>Manufacture: The true impact of the manufacturing process including resource materials, fertilisers needed to grow crops, energy needed to make the bag, Carbon Dioxide emissions, ozone depletion, impact of bi-products in production and water used etc.

>Lifetime: How durable is the bag and therefore how many times can it be re-used? How likely is it to be actually re-used by consumers?

>End of Life: What is the environmental impact of disposing of the bag once it has been used? How easy is it to recycle? How quickly does it decompose if not incinerated? What bi-products are produced in its disposal?


DFI says several studies by different environmental agencies all indicate that the classic Low Density Polyethylene (LDPE) bag actually has the lowest lifecycle impact on the environment on a single-use basis of all bags tested. The LDPE bag is very lightweight and takes relatively little resource and energy to make, compared to a cotton bag, for example.

This, however, doesn’t account for the re-usability of the alternatives and the huge environmental impact the five trillion new single-use bags produced each year (160,000 per second) are having on the planet.

Best commented: “It is clear that we cannot continue to consume plastic bags at the rate we are. We need to change shoppers’ habits to encourage re-using of bags and move away from the disposable economy we have developed on the back of cheap plastic.”


A tax of just five pence was levied on single-use carrier bags in UK supermarkets in 2016.


A simple and effective way of looking at shopping bag choices is by measuring the number of times they will need to be re-used in order to have a positive impact on the environment when compared to a single-use LDPE carrier bag.

A biopolymer bag, for example, (a single use compostable bag) will need to be used 18 times to have the same impact as the bags they are replacing, which is highly unlikely, according to DFI. The company states that although perceived as a good sustainable alternative, a cotton bag would need to be used over 3,000 times to overcome the impact of fertilisers and water needed to grow the cotton.

If the same bag is made from organic cotton, this grows to over 20,000 times because of the increase in waste due to lack of pesticides etc.

Best added: “As you can see, it is a complex issue with no one correct answer or best solution. Take a paper bag for instance.  A paper bag will have less climate change impact in its lifecycle than the classic LDPE carrier and is much easier to dispose of. But when you add in the other environmental impacts in making the paper, you end up having to use the bag 12 times to have a positive impact..”

These are just the empirical numbers, according to Best. “In order to consider the best approach for you as a retailer, you must then review the data in relation to customer perception, how well the new solution reflects your brand values (and those of the brands you are selling), your own corporate sustainability priorities and of course the cost of the alternatives.”

According to DFI, by not considering all the facts and alternatives, a simple replacement of current single-use bags with what are perceived as sustainable alternatives is purely green washing and a flawed strategy.


DFI is advising retailers to adopt a mix of sustainable options which include lightweight plastic choices.. The best options are likely to depend on their shopper mix, type of stores they operate and volumes shoppers buy.


The only ‘green bag’ is no bag, according to DFI

The DFI statement says that a non-woven Polypropylene bag for fife, or even better one made from recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate (made from recycled plastic bottles) is likely to be the most environmental option as they have greater durability than paper. These bags have desirability and likely to be used more than any other type of sustainable bag.  The recycled Polyethylene Terephthalate version also carries a great consumer message of being made from recycled plastic bottles.

Best remarked: “The truth is, the only ‘green bag’ is no bag. As such, we need to be working with retailers and brands to reduce the plastic in the retail environment and help them give shoppers the ability to re-use bags and reduce the need for five trillion carriers a year.”

DFI is working closely with retailers, brands and industry bodies to help mitigate the costs of the alternatives through sponsorship and group-buying options. It firmly believes there is a latent consumer need for bags for life, which can generate incremental revenue in the industry.


Back in 2015, a new category in the UK was created when a tax of just five pence was levied on single-use carrier bags in supermarkets. Sales of bags for life soared and now many households in the UK have several re-usable bags in their car for shopping trips.

DFI stated: “Travel retailers are sitting on an untapped revenue source here. By continuing to distribute free single-use bags, they are not fulfilling this potential. A simple self-imposed voluntary tax on carrier bags (that could be donated to ocean charities), will send a great environmental message to shoppers and ignite the lucrative bag for life category.”

Best concluded: “The key to reducing the impact of all shopping bags — no matter what they are made of — is to reuse them as much as possible.  Our ultimate goal is to change the mindset of retailer and shoppers to move away from the disposable economy and do everything we can to encourage shoppers to re-use, refill and re-purpose our plastic.”


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