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Are Re-usable Shopping Bags really reducing the Environmental Impact?

In October 2015 England introduced a single-use plastic carrier bag charge to reduce the amount of single use bags in circulation and encourage people to reuse bags,

Since the introduction of the charge the number of 'single-use' plastic bags given out by retailers has dropped from 140 to 25 for the average person each year*. In response to the introduction of the charge many retailers have introduced 'bags for life' in a range of styles and prices at till points.

But just how many times does a 'bag for life' need to be re-used to provide the same environmental performance of the average (LDPE) single use carrier bag?

RECYC QUEBEC, and The Danish Environment Agency have carried out independent studies to assess how many times a 'reusable' bag should be reused to provide the same environmental performance of the average LDPE carrier bag and the results have proved very interesting.

According to their findings, a non-woven polypropylene bag must be 6 times, woven polypropylene 5 times and cotton bags 52 times to equal the environmental impact of an average 17-micron carrier bag used just once. How many times do you re-use your 'bags for life'?

Shopping Bag Infographic

The conventional 'single use' plastic bags have several environmental and economic advantages; they are thin, light and the production requires little material and energy. Not only that, conventional 'single use' plastic bags can be re-used and are commonly re-used for bin liners. This second use avoids the production and purchase of bin liners reducing overall material use.

Top take always from the research:

  • Re-use all styles of carrier bags (even the ones dubbed as single use!) as many times as possible before disposal.
  • Prioritise functionality when designing your packaging product. The main aim is to maximise volume and weight holding capacity whilst minimising the amount of material needed and minimise the final weight of the carrier bag.
  • Recycle where possible at the end of use.

Source:

https://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/the-science-is-clear-the-conventional-plastic-bag-is-the-best-for-the-environment-682165391.html?ispopup=y

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2018/apr/05/drop-in-plastic-bags-littering-british-seas-linked-to-introduction-of-5p-charge

https://monsacintelligent.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/ENGLISH_FINAL-Quebec-LCA-Highlights.pdf

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