Like many of you, I have a hodgepodge of reusable grocery sacks that I keep on hand to carry my groceries.
Though eco-minded shoppers rave about the benefits of these bags, some recent reports have indicated that they may not be as “green” as they appear.
The not-so-green side of reusable grocery bags
- The resources required to create reusable bags. Whether made of polypropylene, cotton, or something else, raw materials and energy are needed to create reusable grocery sacks. The volume of materials and amount of energy may be significant. According to this article, non-woven polypropylene bags require about 28 times as much energy to produce as the standard disposable plastic bags.
- The energy required to ship bags from where they’re manufactured to where they’re sold. If reusable bags are not manufactured locally, they must be shipped before they can be sold to consumers. When bags are made in a place like China, a significant amount of fuel is required to get them to the U.S.
- Poor quality bags that need replaced often. Many reusable bags are poorly constructed. When these bags fall apart after a few uses, they end up in the trash alongside disposable bags.
- The new plastic bags purchased by some consumers as a substitute for used plastic grocery bags. Some consumers reuse disposable plastic grocery bags as trashcan liners and for picking up dog droppings. In the absence of plastic grocery bags, consumers often purchase new plastic bags to use for these purposes.
Tips for getting the most out of reusable grocery bags
Though the previously mentioned factors can detract from the extent to which reusable grocery bags are environmentally friendly, if used as intended, these bags can have a positive impact on the environment. In fact, this article states that if every reusable bag is used at least once each week, just 4 or 5 reusable bags can replace up to 520 plastic bags a year. The following factors are important to keep in mind when selecting reusable bags.
- Choose bags that will last a long time. Select bags that are tough and durable so they will last a long time instead of being thrown out alongside disposable bags.
- Consider where the bags are manufactured. Because it can take a lot of energy to transport bags to consumers, try to find ones that are made in the U.S.A. If you can find ones made in your region, this is even better!
- Consider from what materials the bags are manufactured. Based on the amount of energy required to produce various bags, they have to be used for varying amounts of time to make up for the negative effects of a plastic bag. For example, a non-woven polypropylene bag has to be used just 11 times to make up for the negative effects of a disposable plastic bag used one time. A cotton bag, however, has to be used 131 times to make up for the negative effects of a disposable plastic bag used one time (source). Even quality reusable bags will eventually wear out and need tossed out or recycled, so also consider how a material will breakdown if thrown away or if it can be recycled.
- Purchase bags you’ll use. Reusable bags are pointless if you will not use them. Select bags that are easy to store and use so you’ll actually carry them with you and use them.
- Remember to use the bags. Have you ever made it to the grocery store checkout and realized you left your reusable grocery bags in the car or at home? Unfortunately, I do this on occasion. Find an approach to help you remember your bags.
For additional information, visit the links in this post and this article from NPR.
Do you use reusable grocery bags? Have they reduced your use of disposable plastic bags? How long do the bags typically last you?