There’s an interesting article over at MNN about how reusable bags are creating their own unique set of environmental problems.
Writer Robin Shreeves, based on some info gleamed at Philly.com, notes that folks accumulate too many reusable bags, thus they end up in the landfill, making them no better than the plastic bags everyone is trying to ban in the first place.
The possible problems of reusable bags
In the Philly piece, Vince Cobb, a reusable-bag expert and salesman at www.reuseit.com, points out that when the Chicago Bears gave away 40,000 reusable bags at a 2009 game, many were simply tossed in the trash by halftime and that in just a week, Target gave away a million reusable bags – many of which will also end up in the trash.
Back at MNN, Shreeves discusses taking a bunch of stuff to Goodwill, including several never used reusable cotton bags, due to having too many other reusable bags – better bags that fit the household’s needs. The article also points out that while giving away reusable bags is seemingly the new black, many of these bags go unused because they’re inferior quality or because the person who takes it never gets into the habit of using it.
Are plastic bag bans a good idea?
Many people who left comments over at MNN say that reusable bags are a scam and that bans on plastic disposable bags are ridiculous and don’t work.
In some ways I agree that bans don’t work and don’t help the environment. Comparing apples to apples, it takes a lot of manufacturing resources (water, energy, etc) to create plastic or paper disposable bags AND reusable bags. All three are very resource dependent. To make matters worse, most reusable bags given away by the dozens are cheap polypropylene bag (i.e. plastic-made).
To make a reusable bag worth it…
According to one a British Environment Agency study, you’d have to use a cheap store-brand nonwoven polypropylene bag 11 times to make up for the negative effects of a plastic bag used one time but you’d have to use a cotton bag about 131 times to make it more worthwhile.
Luckily, I’ve used my bags well over 131 times
I bought a set of reusable cloth bags about 4.5 years ago. We use these cloth bags for at least 3 bags of groceries a week and we also use them at the library, for sleepovers, for taking stuff to school, at department stores and thrift stores for clothing purchases and much, much more. We use them for everything and in the last few years, we’ve brought just one or two accidental plastic disposable bags into our house.
I haven’t been keeping track, but a very low estimate is that we probably need and use a bag at least 300 times a year. On top of that, in 4.5 years, we’ve never had to buy new bags. Some of our bags have ripped, but I sew them up. One of the cloth bags I bought ripped a lot and got all stained, so I cut it up and it’s now being used as a cleaning cloth. When the cleaning cloth is in shreds I’ll feel ok tossing it out.
Honestly – people are over-thinking the situation
Reusable bags are easy and cloth bags can be used to death, to the point where there’s almost nothing left of it, but you can’t say the same for plastic. People who complain about too many bags being given away just need a new mindset.
It’s not that complicated! Below are three easy steps to reusable bag common sense…
1. Buy a set of quality cloth reusable bags and use them for everything. Don’t forget to wash them once a week.
2. Don’t take a reusable bag just because it’s offered to you. No one (I’d wager) is holding a gun to your head saying, “Take the cheap store brand bag!“Are they? You can say NO to freebies.
3. Once your cloth bags die as bags, cut them up and use them as cleaning cloths.
Really, reusable bag use just isn’t that difficult. Get more tips about how to maximize your reusable bag experience.
Do you think reusable bags are worse for the environment than disposable bags?