In order to reduce the environmental impact .. How often do you have to use cotton grocery bags or reinforced plastic?

Dubai, United Arab Emirates (CNN) — We may not win the battle against single-use plastic bags, but it sure is still going on.

Restrictions have been imposed on the use of this type of bag in twelve US states, and in many other countries around the world.

In many cases, these efforts have succeeded in curbing sales of the new, soft, thin plastic bags that hang from tree branches, clog waterways, and microplastics that leach into soil and water and harm marine life.

And many of us struggle with the number of reusable bags, such as canvas bags or thicker, more durable plastic bags, that retailers sell cheaply or offer to customers as an ostensibly eco-friendly alternative to single-use plastic bags.

Campaign activists explained that these bags cause new environmental problems, as reusable bags contain a much higher carbon footprint than thin plastic bags.

By one staggering estimate, a cotton bag needs to be used at least 7,100 times to make it a truly environmentally friendly alternative to traditional plastic bags.

The answer to a greener, single-use plastic bag alternative is not clear, but the advice is to reuse any bags you have at home, as much as possible.

Here’s what to keep in mind when you get to the mall or grocery store.

The consequences of plastic bags

In some cases, bans and restrictions on single-use plastics have unintended consequences.

In New Jersey, the 2022 ban on single-use paper and plastic bags has caused grocery delivery services to shift to heavy-duty bags.

Customers complain of an abundance of heavy, reusable bags that they don’t know what to do with.

In the UK, the average person now buys around three single-use bags a year, down 140 bags from 2014, the year before the single-use bag charge was introduced.

However, Greenpeace says that in 2019 UK supermarkets sold 1.58 billion durable plastic bags, known as “bags for life”, which equates to 57 bags per household and more than one bag per week.

This was an increase of 4.5% compared to 2018.

This suggests that this model of offering a heavier bag to encourage reuse is simply not effective.

Judith Ink, former regional director for the Environmental Protection Agency, said, “If companies are giving us thicker plastic bags, I would say that overall this policy has failed.”

And when it comes to evaluating the environmental impact of any bag over its lifetime, there are many different elements to consider: such as the materials used, the weight, the manufacturing process, and how to dispose of it.

For example, a heavy-duty plastic shopping bag made from the same material as classic single-use plastic bags, but twice the weight of the first has a multiplying impact on the environment.

Unless they are to be reused many times, thin single-use plastic bags may seem like a better option than heavy-duty ones in terms of their impact on the climate.

The key to heavy-duty plastic bags is that they are reused faithfully, and disposed of carefully so they don’t end up as plastic pollution.

A 2020 report by the United Nations Environment Program found that a thick, sturdy polypropylene bag (often with a woven feel) should be used between 10 and 20 times compared to a single single-use plastic bag.

While a polyethylene bag is smaller and reusable, it is meant to be used between 5 and 10 times.

There will always be cases where we forget our (reusable) bags at home,” said Thomas Ekvall, one of the authors of the UNEP report and assistant professor at Chalmers University of Technology, Sweden. We shouldn’t try to do it, but when we do, we’ll have to buy a new one.”

“If we already have too many durable bags at home, it’s better, from a climate perspective, to buy a single-use paper or plastic bag.”

However, Ekval stressed that single-use plastic bags embody a culture of waste disposal, and perhaps this alone is a reason to avoid using them.

Cotton bag problem

The cotton bag has become a less expensive symbol for brands and individuals who want to avoid using plastic ones.

But cotton is a resource-intensive crop that requires a lot of water and uses a large amount of pesticides and fertilizers, which introduce nitrates into the land and waterways, and result in the formation of nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas, meaning its environmental footprint is larger than many people appreciate.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme, a cotton bag should be used between 50 and 150 times to have a lower impact on the climate than a single-use plastic bag.

A 2018 report by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency suggested that a cotton bag must be used at least 7,100 times to offset its environmental impact when compared to classic plastic bags that are reused once as a garbage bag and then incinerated.

It is also important to note that plastic bags are responsible for producing a large portion of the garbage, but they play a very small role in the climate crisis when compared to other products and commodities.

As such, it is probably much more important to think about what you put in your shopping bag and to consume less.

Inc., president of the nonprofit organization Beyond Plastics, which works to end pollution from single-use plastic products, agrees.

She says she has been using the same cotton bag for 20 years: “I think we shouldn’t let LCA take common sense away from us. Single-use plastic has serious environmental damage.”

Ink said she donated her excess reusable bags to the food bank pantry or used them as gift wrap.

I suggested that it might also make sense to make a shopping bag out of old clothes, bed sheets or curtains, rather than buying a new one.

Ekvall suggests that consumers encourage companies to lend bags for a small fee, rather than selling bags that consumers don’t need (who forgot to bring their own reusable bags).

Ink stressed that it is better to reuse plastic bags as much as possible than to immediately seek to recycle them, as the different chemicals and dyes used in various types of plastics have made the recycling process very difficult.

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