We do it ourselves; every time we go to the supermarket, the week-market or anywhere else to buy stuff, we take one of our re-usable bags. And if sometimes we I forget it or have an impulsive buy then I just ask for a paper bag or carry it as it is.
If everybody would do so it can make a big difference. One point is that in my opinion they also should train the cashier staff not to take automatically one or more plastic bags but ask if the customer really needs it.
Like with all things also re-usable bags have a downside that we need to think about. Although more environmentally friendly than traditional single-use plastic bags, reusable bags, depending on what they are made out of, are more energy-intensive to produce, distribute, and recycle.
To be clear, plastic bags are rightly thought of as a menace that’s hazardous to human health. Some research showed that an average family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, clogging our cabinets, kitchen drawers, and landfills. That’s more then 4 per day! The best country to compare would be Denmark where a shopper uses an average of 4 bags per year! But this is not a story on the evil of plastics, this is a story on whether the reusable bag can justify its existence.
According to a report about single use plastics by the United Nations Environment Program there is a part about the ‘controversy of re-usable bags’ the following is mentioned:
There are many types of reusable bags available on the market. They are often produced using different materials that are heavier and durable to give the bag added strength.
Although more environmentally friendly than traditional single-use plastic bags, recycling reusable bags can be complicated, time intensive, and costly as they often require different processes from those locally available. Depending on their composition, reusable bags might have to be deconstructed in the recycling process to separate the different materials. Consequently, in many cases reusable bags are not recycled. This means that millions of reusable bags, currently displacing conventional plastic shopping bags, will end up in landfills at the end of their useful life.
Another point to consider is that not all reusable bags are equal in terms of their recyclability. There is a wide range of reusable bag options on the market. Generally speaking, reusable bags tend to be made of more than one material to give the bag added reinforcement and added street appeal. On a life cycle basis, stronger, heavier bags—no matter what material they are made from, although cotton is the worst culprit—will have a more substantial environmental impact. That’s because heavier bags use more resources to create as well as distribute. Although reusable bags are still the lesser of evils, here are three things you need to consider before you make your choice.
Too much of a good thing?
Part of the problem with nice designed tote bags is that they are irresistible to have. Just like plastic bags, reusable bags multiply, but unlike plastic bags, there is no formal recycling designation for tote bags. Used for promotional purposes and marketing of all kinds, re-usable bags that have been used very little (or not at all) can be found piled on curbs, tossed in trashcans in city parks, in dumpsters, and basically everywhere.
Tip: One way to chip away your bag of bags is to donate them. Use them to bring clothing donations to shelters, houses of worship or goodwill, and leave them as part of the donation or take fabric ones to a textile recycling drop off location.
Put the use in re-use
To legitimize the extra effort and energy consumption that producing re-usable bags requires, consumers need to use their reusable bags—a lot. One study out of the United Kingdom shows that you would have to reuse a cotton tote 327 times to achieve the same carbon-usage ratio as using a paper bag seven times, or plastic bag used twice. As strange as it sounds, plastic bags have the lightest per-use impact of the various bags the study examined. Cotton bags, on the other hand, in terms of production and distribution, actually have the highest and most severe global-warming potential by far.
Tip: Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing its environmental impact is to reuse it as many times as possible. If you leave your reusable bag in your car the next time you’re at the grocery store, go back and get it.
Beware of bacteria
Sad but true—re-usable bags, if you have been using them several times, are probably filthy. Especially when they are used for groceries, the bags can be breeding grounds for food-borne bacteria. If the bags are used to carry meat, fish or fruits and vegetables, chances of bacterial contamination are especially high.
Tip: Wash your bags regularly, either weekly or after each trip to the store, to kill all the accumulated bacteria. To take it one step further, you could designate particular reusable bags for meat and for other products. And where you keep your bags matters. Especially in summer, storing your bags in the trunk of a hot car creates an optimal bacteria friendly environment, encouraging bacteria to multiply. Try storing them in a hallway or closet instead.
In the end, the best practice for re-usable bags is to have no half measures: either use them all the time or don’t use them at all. Using a re-usable bag once or twice, and then throwing it away, doesn’t do the environment any favors.