Why not all reusable bags are good for the planet | Did You Know?Apr 28, 2023
goodbye to plastic
bags. Major supermarkets have banned these single-use shopping
bags. And the bags have also been banned from all stores in most states and territories. That means we can pay for the default sturdy suitcases or we can bring our own. So what are the options and how do they compare? Basically, there are three things you need to think about: how the bag is produced, how many times you will use it, and how you can dispose of it. If your goal is to reduce the amount of plastic you use, replacing single-use bags with heavy-duty ones doesn't really add up.
It takes more energy to make one of these, compared to one of these. Which means you'll need to use this at least four times before it's most beneficial. Around 1 per cent of the plastic bags used in Australia end up in the environment. Which doesn't sound like much, until you realize that Australians use over 10 million plastic bags a day. So what about degradable plastic bags? They are often confused with biodegradable bags, but they are definitely not the same thing. Degradable bags do break down when exposed to sunlight and oxygen, but into smaller plastic pieces. They are made from plastic, while biodegradable bags are made from cornstarch or other plant material.
These bags meet Australian standards and break down into carbon dioxide, methane, biomass and water. We've all seen this before: the green bag. They are made of high strength non-woven polypropylene. Basically, that's a type of plastic that's a byproduct of oil refining. But even though it's a product of fossil fuels, it doesn't actually take that much energy to produce it. Which means you'll only need to use these bags 11 times to break even with single-use bags. The inconvenient? Like degradable bags, they can break down into microplastics if they get into the environment. Duffel bags are another popular alternative.
Many totes today are made of 100% cotton. However, because of this, it is quite an energy and water intensive option. Basically, a lot of water is required to grow cotton – almost 8 million liters of water for every hectare in Australia. And from a climate change perspective, you'll need to use a tote bag at least 131 times before you can make up for the extra energy needed. But the
goodthing is that you can use them hundreds or thousands of times, they are washable and, most importantly, they are biodegradable. Paper bags are not very common in supermarkets anymore, but they are still used in other retail stores.
Unlike plastic bags, paper bags break down easily and don't accumulate in the ocean or other environments. But that is also part of the problem. Once you get them wet, it's hard not to break them. And you would need to reuse them multiple times to balance their global warming potential. Burlap or burlap bags are a more sustainable option. Burlap is made from the fibers of the jute plant. It is second only to cotton in the amount produced for commercial purposes, and requires few pesticides, herbicides, or fertilizers. More than 80 percent of the world's jute is grown in Bangladesh and India.
This means there is a carbon cost in transporting jute to Australia. But the crop itself is effectively carbon neutral. One hectare consumes about 15 tons of carbon dioxide, which is stored in the plant and fiber. And it's also 100 percent biodegradable. However, some jute bags are lined with plastic, so this is something to watch out for. So there are lots of alternatives, and some better than others. Yes, you'll have to use them quite a bit to make them worth your while. But remember that in the long run, the best case scenario is one where we don't use non-degradable plastic bags.
So the best thing to do is find a
reusablebag that suits your needs and do exactly that – reuse it. One thing we didn't get to touch on properly in the video was what to do if you use your plastic bags as garbage bags. There are a few different options, such as lining the bin with newspaper, using a biodegradable plastic bag, or not lining the bin at all. There are also some things you could do earlier, like recycle or compost food waste.
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