Plastic vs. Reusable Bags: Which Bag Is Best?


Marketing/Green Policy Development
Jan 18, 2017
Green Building Service Provider - Plastic vs. Reusable Bags: Which Bag Is Best?

Did you know that you need to reuse a canvas bag 171 times to mitigate the environmental impacts over a plastic bag?

But now, due to the looming threat of climate change and the overfilling of our landfills, more and more people are making the choice to be more environmentally conscious in their everyday lives. One of the ways people have been transitioning to a more green lifestyle is by using reusable bags. There are even ordinances in places like New York and even in Washington DC that have banned the use of plastic bags. So naturally, we’re doing the right thing, right?

In some sense, yes. Many facts seem to suggest that plastic is choking our planet. The great Pacific Garbage Patch alone, which floats between Hawaii and California with scientists estimating its size to be two times bigger than Texas, should be enough evidence to make all of us aspire to reduce our consumption and waste. 

- Plastic bags take anywhere from 15 to 1000 years to decompose.
- Worldwide, an estimated 4 billion plastic bags end up as litter each year. Tied end to end, the bags could circle the earth 63 times. 
- Some 14 million trees are cut down annually for paper bag manufacture 
- Only 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled in the United States. The rest end up in landfills, the ocean, floating around our streets, and more. 
- It’s estimated that 1 million birds and thousands of turtles and other sea animals die each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags. (This is truly a preventable tragedy.)
- More than 10 percent of the washed-up debris polluting the U.S. coastline is made up of plastic bags.
- It takes 12 million barrels of oil to produce the estimated 100 billion plastic bags that Americans use each year.
- The petroleum used to produce 14 plastic bags can drive a car one mile.

**For more facts check out:

Reusable bags are appealing for additional reasons: they’re strong, can be stylish, and and can endure many shopping trips over the years. Bins and reusable bags are also often biodegradable and the average reusable bag has a lifespan equal to that of more than 700 disposable plastic bags. They can also be cost effective, as many stores now offer shoppers discounts and program points for bagging with reusables--small cents can add up to big dollars over time. And in some areas, these fees for bags are even required. Some estimates suggest that purchasing a single set of reusable shopping bags and using them every time you go shopping could eliminate the disposal of as many as 20,000 disposable plastic bags! 

There are three main types of reusable bags on the market: Canvas, Polyester, and Polypropylene bags. 

- Canvas Bag: The first reusable shopping bag to gain popularity was the canvas bag. Canvas totes are available in conventional cotton, organic cotton, or even hemp. However, there is a negative environmental impact of conventional cotton cultivation, since a major percentage of the world's herbicides are used on cotton prior to harvesting. While organic cotton is better, both conventional and organic cotton use a significant amount of water, so the environmental impact of the fabric bag is directly proportional to its weight. If you are looking for a canvas bag, look for a lighter one. No matter what you choose, it will still hold more weight than a plastic or paper bag. 
- Polyester Tote Bag: Polyester tote bags are easily portable shopping bags made from a very thin but durable fabric. The bag is about the same size as a disposable plastic bag used for shipping and stores neatly in an integrated pouch that can clip to your purse or fit in your pocket. At just 35 grams, the manufacturing of the polyester material for one bag creates 89 grams of greenhouse gas emissions, which is equivalent to the manufacture of just seven disposable plastic shopping bags. 
-Polypropylene Bag: Another shopping bag that has been recently been gaining popularity is made from polypropylene and is designed in the shape of a brown paper shopping bag. These bags, can now be found at the checkout lines pretty much everywhere, from supermarkets to Ace hardware stores. At 103 grams, the manufacturing of the polypropylene material for each bag creates 138 grams of greenhous

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EmmamHowe // Marketing/Green Policy Development

I am highly motivated college student with strong leadership, organizational, and interpersonal skills. I am very interested in political science, economics, and language and cultural studies, and I intend on pursuing each of these throughout my college experience. My goal is to finish out my undergraduate years with degrees in both international studies and economics with a minor in political science. I hope to work my way up through state government and then onto the national government to promote an environmental economic agenda that will bring the US closer to reaching its climate goals.

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