How Green is my Reusable Carrier?

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How Green is my Reusable Carrier?

Hey, not trying to pester people to use their shopping bags in a more environmentally friendly way. However for those that are interested then hopefully we have some helpful information. A plastic free carrier isn’t always greener! In a year where the UK will host COP26, the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties such topics are becoming increasingly important. So just how Green is my Reusable Carrier?

Some Reasons for Avoiding Single Use Plastic Carrier Bags

We realise you are possibly aware of many of these points. For those who aren’t, here’s some food for thought.

  • Annually we use 5 trillion carrier bags.
  • Only 1% are recycled.
  • They are made from oil (rapidly depleting fossil fuel).
  • Once discarded, they break down to microplastics, compromising food chains.
  • Over 100,000 marine animals per year are known to die from consuming them.
  • The clutter in your car or house from the accumulation of bags that you always forget to take with you on the next shop!

Based on those points aloe it is pretty much common sense to avoid single use plastic carrier bags it would seem.

How Green are the Alternatives to Single Use Bags?

How Green is my Reusable Carrier?
London, UK, November 19, 201 : Customer shopper pushing a shopping trolley cart full of plastic carrier bags at its Tesco Extra supermarket retail business store in Brent Park Wembley stock photo

This is where it can get a little more complicated. To make a proper green credentials assessment we need to consider the full life time of each bag type. This incudes;

  • What raw materials consumed, and are they sustainable?
  • How much energy went into making it?
  • What energy goes into getting it to where it will be used?
  • How long will it last?
  • Can shoppers recycle them?
  • If so what energy does recycling use?
  • Once thrown away what does it break down into?

Paper Bags

A number of supermarket chains such as Morrisons now provide reusable paper carrier bags.

However they can take up to 4 times the energy of that to produce a single use plastic carrier bag. They also cause more in transport emissions as they are heavier in weight than the equivalent number of plastic bags. Deforestation is also a consequence, unless manufacturers use sustainable trees.

So, as long as manufacturers make them from sustainably sourced paper and shoppers use a bag typically four times, they can be considered as greener than plastic.

Cotton Bags

Based on the resources used and energy expended in manufacturing, a shopper needs to reuse the bag a whopping 130 times for it to be greener than plastic. On the other hand a huge plus point is that once discarded, it does not cause pollution. That however doesn’t detract from the fact that anybody incorrectly disposing bag may result in litter.

A worthwhile though here is a traditional string bag. Not only is it likely to be environmentally friendly, it is also practical as it can be rolled up small in a pocket when empty.

Reusable Plastic Bag

Generally heavier and consume more resources in production than single use predecessors. On average research shows it takes 12 uses before becoming greener in its lifetime than a single use plastic bag. In the US statistics point to shoppers only using the same bag 3 times on average, so perhaps not the great answer that environmentalists and governments expected?

However since the UK government introduced tax increases on plastic bags, there has been a 40% drop in the number of bags encountered on beaches. How much if this is possibly down to people being more considerate with disposal cannot be confirmed.

Bag for Life

In terms of production, sourcing and transportation, they are often worse than single use plastic. Once again the key benefit is in re-use.

How Green is my Reusable Carrier – Final Thought

Finally, having unpacked bag loads of information on this subject, they main point is how many times you use a bag in its lifetime! Whatever the material, maximising the use will increase the bag’s green credentials. Therefore always try to re-use what you already have. The added benefit of that is the collection in your car, cupboards at home or desk for those of us still working away from home does not grow out of control.

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