Are your reusable shopping bags as good as you thought?

One of the easiest ways to reduce our footprint on the world is to reduce our reliance on single use plastic. Single use plastic is everywhere. There are 10 million shopping bags used every day and 85% of them end up in landfill.

The big shops were pretty smart. The green bag was born – you know the ones we always call “calico bags” that they sell for $1 at the checkout? Well they’re not calico, they are non-woven polypropylene. That’s plastic. They’re also made from virgin (ie non-recycled) material. For the amount of energy and water and so on that it takes to make them, you have to use them 104 times to make a difference to the environment (or every week for 2 years). If you you use them 52 or less times (ie use them for 1 year or less), their environmental impact is greater than a single use plastic bag.

But at least it’s keeping single use plastic bags from landfill right?

True. And these bags can be recycled (and note that if yours have come to the end of their life, they can be REDcycled at any Coles store) but they do have to be shipped overseas to do it. You know why? Because in Australia we pay half decent wages (comparative to the rest of the world. The green bag seams need to be unpicked before they can go through the recycling process and that is labour intensive – so they get shipped to countries where people get paid rubbish wages. Ethical dilemma? You bet.

Based on that, green bags are totally out for me.

I’m ashamed to say I learned all this after I bought polyester washable bags. They aren’t bad per se, but they aren’t nearly the best I could have chosen. Not by a long shot. What I can’t do though is throw all my polyester bags away and go and buy new and environmentally better bags. As with any bags you have, the point is to re-use them for as long as possible. Then, when you have to replace them, you can buy rPet bags (that’s bags made from recycled plastic bottles) or any organic natural fibres like jute or cotton.

All bag materials have an environmental footprint, there’s still lots of water etc needed to make cotton bags. The main thing is to buy as best you can, with their end point in mind. If they end up in the ground, how long will they be there and how much damage could they do? At least any reusable bag keeps single use from landfill (or our waterways!). But when they do end up in the ground, at least natural fibre bags will degrade.

The best thing we can do is stay informed – and then we can make better choices. Our world is amazing, and we can all do something to keep it that way. Hey, how amazing would it be if we left the world better than we found it???

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