Why we should all be using reusable bags
In the 1970s when plastic bags first began to become readily available, who could have predicted the environmental problems they would go on to cause?
Worldwide we consume a trillion plastic bags a year
The US alone uses 60,000 every 5 seconds!
Whilst many of us know plastic bags are not good for the environment, do we really know why they are bad environmentally speaking?
The big problem is the fact they are manufactured using crude oil.
We are making these bags using crude oil just for a bit of added convenience at the grocery store when we should be conserving this precious, non-renewable natural resource.
Plus, like all products made from crude oil the manufacturing process emits huge amounts of pollution into the atmosphere.
Due to using materials such a crude oil plastic bags are non-biodegradable which means they can take up to 1000 years to decompose!
This causes problems for the environment on a multitude of levels
Landfill sites can cause problems such as emitting dangerous gases like methane, contaminating local water supplies and taking up ever-increasing amounts of space.
With millions of plastic bags being thrown away every year and accounting for a large percentage of the waste in these landfill sites, you begin to see the problem.
Another terrible effect of plastic bags is the harm they can cause to wildlife
There are a disgusting amount of plastic bags littering our oceans and marine wildlife can often mistake them for food and eat them.
Once ingested, the animal cannot digest or pass the bag and can suffer from a slow and painful death.
On land, birds get caught in plastic bags and if they cannot fly because of this they end up dying of starvation.
There are calls for plastic bags to be banned all together
Achim Steiner, executive director of the U.N. Environment Programme said, “Single use plastic bags which choke marine life, should be banned or phased out rapidly everywhere. There is simply zero justification for manufacturing them any more, anywhere”.₁
Luckily, there is an easy and convenient alternative and that is reusable grocery bags
They are made from much more environmentally friendly materials than, plastic bags.
One of the more popular materials used for reusable bags is Jute
Jute is a fibre spun from the core of a plant that requires no irrigation, no fertilisers, and uses every part of the plant so there is no waste.
Other natural materials used include cotton, Juco (a Jute/cotton mix) and canvas. As these bags are made from renewable natural resources they have a lot less impact on the environment.
They can be used time and time again and are a lot more hard-wearing than plastic bags so can take heavier loads.
Whilst the pros of using reusable grocery bags massively outweigh the cons, there are a couple of things to mention
Be aware that although great for bringing your groceries home from the store they are designed to carry items that are packaged.
This means you should not pack them with loose fruit and vegetables or raw meat as these may have germs on them which the bag can then harbour.
As hardly any of us would think to wash our reusable bags this can quickly lead to health issues.
A research paper by the University of Pennsylvania Law School found that after the banning of plastic bags in San Francisco there was a significant increase in the number of bacterial related emergency room visits.
A fact they believe could have been, at least in part, caused by the misuse of reusable grocery bags.₂
Another factor to consider is that although it is a less intensive process and therefore less harmful to the environment, reusable grocery bags still use resources and go through a manufacturing process.
For instance, cotton is a high water consumption crop so any bags made from cotton have still had some impact on the environment.
Jute, although long-lasting and durable has to be imported so any pollution caused by the transportation of this material should be taken into account.
All this is not being said to put you off using reusable bags – you just need to be aware that even though they are better than plastic bags you still need to use them responsibly.
Many of us forget to take our reusable grocery bags with us when shopping so buy a new one every time and end up with a big collection at home which completely defeats the purpose of having them in the first place!
When it comes to using reusable shopping bags the stores are on your side.
Annually, US retailers spend $4 billion dollars giving away free plastic bags so it makes good financial sense to encourage customers away from them whilst showcasing your brand’s support in tackling environmental issues.
Brands taking advantage of this environmental stance include Home Depot and Walmart who in 2007, according to The Wall Street Journal, gave away over 1.5 million reusable bags to their customers between them.₃
Also, companies including Whole Foods, Trader Joes and Safeway offer customers rewards for bringing their own bags.
Plastic bag consumption is a worldwide issue
Some countries are taking it more seriously than others.
Many countries including China and South Africa have banned ultra-thin bags.
Some countries, with Rwanda being the first, have banned plastic bags all together. Others have found that hitting consumers where it hurts (their pockets), is the way to go.
In 2002, the Republic of Ireland began charging people to use plastic bags at a cost of 15 Euro cents per bag.
Within a year, plastic bag litter was reduced by 95% and 90% of shoppers were using reusable grocery bags.
This tax has been deemed one of the most successful movements in the war against plastic bags and Belgium, Germany, Spain, Norway and the Netherlands quickly followed suit.
With on going campaigns against plastic bags it looks like the reusable grocery bag is here to stay.
My advice, although it may sound obvious and the clue is in the name, is that you must reuse them! – Their whole reason for being is the fact they are to be used multiple times.
The resources and manufacturing processes used to make them will have all gone to waste if they are used once and then relegated to the back of the cupboard.
So remember, fight the war against plastic bags and put the reuse back into reusable grocery bags!
Image by: julietakespictures