Ah yes, the holiday season is here again! With daily trips to the grocery store and what seems like an infinite exchange of gift giving comes the inevitable great bag build up. I’m sure you’re all familiar with the phenomenon I’m referring to – when it seems that every cabinet, drawer, or shelf with extra space becomes home to flimsy, plastic bags being saved for reusing or recycling. But let’s be honest, the number of times these bags end up getting reused or brought back to the store for proper disposal compared to the number of times they are thrown away because they cause too much clutter is miniscule. The holidays are stressful enough, don’t let unnecessary “baggage” and a lack of knowledge of better solutions keep you from enjoying all the trips to the store.
This December, the NRT has been chosen as the beneficiary of Big Y’s Community Bag Program, which has me thinking about just how environmentally friendly reusable bags can be, and let me tell you, the results were not what I was expecting!
The focus of the investigation revolved around life cycle assessments of the different types of reusable bags and comparing them to single-use plastic bags. One thing that surprised me was that production-wise, it is actually less environmentally taxing to produce 1 single-use bag than their reusable alternatives, but because so many are being produced and people don’t know how to properly dispose of them, they become a much larger problem.
Many people, myself included, have at one point or another subscribed to the idea that 100% cotton is 100% best and all plastic, in any form, is ruining our planet. To all my cotton enthusiasts, prepare to have your mind blown – a UK study found that one cotton bag needs to be used 7,100 times in order to have a smaller environmental impact than one single-use plastic bag! This number is so large greatly due to the production impact of cotton, the use of bleach and dyes, and the transport of cotton products. This isn’t to say using a reusable cotton bag is the end of the world, but be prepared to use that bag A LOT.
Most of the green, plastic reusable bags we find in stores these days are made from a plastic called polypropylene. If you invest in one of these bags, be sure to hang on to it as you will need to use it at least 37 times to make an environmental impact (minute compared to its cotton counterpart).
If you thought getting paper bags at the grocers put you in the clear, you are sorely mistaken. In order for that one paper bag to be less environmentally impactful, you need to use it at least 43 times. That being said, the benefits of paper bags are that they are biodegradable unlike their plastic counterparts. The same can be said for cotton bags.
This research was only the tip of the iceberg for me and there are many other factors that need to be taken into account when assessing what works best for you, but there are some general tips that can help you reduce your environmental impact when holiday (or any day) shopping this year:
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