No one can deny that our reliance on single-use plastics is damaging the planet in more ways than one and whilst reusable bags seem to be a great alternative, the environmental costs of them often seem to go unnoticed.
There are several alternatives to single-use plastic bags. How sustainable the bag is depends on the materials it is made from and how many times it is used. The most common type of reusable bag is a cotton (tote) bag. This is a popular choice because it is very strong, easily washable and can also feature some artistic designs. Whilst cotton is renewable and a much better material to use than plastic, its manufacturing process requires high levels of energy and water. Choosing a tote bag made from recycled or organic cotton is a great way to reduce your carbon footprint whilst buying a reusable bag.
How sustainable the bag is depends on the materials it is made from and how many times it is used
There are a number of reusable plastic bags on the market, but these also require lots of resources and energy to be made. On top of this plastic is, of course, a non-renewable source that is drastically affecting our climate by having a huge environmental footprint. Another disadvantage is that many reusable bags, especially plastic ones, are made from a mixture of materials to make them more durable. This makes them almost impossible to recycle and hence they all end up in landfills. Bags made from PET are a much more sustainable choice because they are made from recycled plastic bottles and have a 75% lower carbon footprint than polyester.
Whatever type of reusable bag you use, the environmental benefit depends on how many times you use it. If you use the bag only once, then single-use plastic bags are the best option. A cotton tote bag requires an extensive manufacturing process, therefore you would have to use the bag 173 times for it to be considered more sustainable than its plastic alternative. Whilst this is a high number, sticking to one or two tote bags for many years can ensure you surpass this number and have a smaller environmental impact on the planet.
Bags made from PET are a much more sustainable choice because they are made from recycled plastic bottles and have a 75% lower carbon footprint than polyester
In comparison, recycled plastic bags only require a minimum of two uses to become more sustainable than single-use plastic alternatives. Recyclable bags are a great option as they prevent plastic from ending up in landfill, but also only take a couple of uses to become more eco-friendly! My personal favourite is still a simple tote bag, I have a few that I switch between regularly but upon discovering just how big of a footprint it has, I will do my best to ensure I use them all to their fullest and get the maximum number of uses that I can!