Has the disposable plastic bag been unfairly scapegoated? The Independent reports on a contrarian U.K. study which found that, with typical use, plastic grocery store bags actually have less of an environmental footprint than paper ones or cotton tote bags. The lesson: avoid needless consumption, and don’t imagine your screen-printed tote is saving the planet:
Hated by environmentalists and shunned by shoppers, the disposable plastic bag is piling up in a shame-filled corner of retail history. But a draft report by the Environment Agency has found that ordinary high density polythene (HDPE) bags used by shops are actually greener than supposedly low impact choices.
HDPE bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers such as Primark.
Most paper bags are used only once and one study assumed cotton bags were used only 51 times before being discarded, making them – according to this new report – worse than single-use plastic bags.
It found that an HDPE plastic bag would have a baseline global warming potential of 1.57 kg Co2 equivalent, falling to 1.4 kg Co2e if re-used once, the same as a paper bag used four times (1.38 kg Co2e). A cotton bag would have to be re-used 171 times to emit a similar level, 1.57 kg Co2e.