Are You Using the Right Shopping Bags?
Whenever you go out shopping, whether it is for food, clothes or general items, whatever you buy ends up in some sort of shopping bag. Supermarkets tend to have plenty of thin plastic bags, or you can buy reusable bags which can either be durable plastic or canvas. Designer shops and chain stores can offer paper bags, with their designer logos, advertising them as biodegradable. But which type of shopping bag is best to use from an environmental point of view?
Environmental Problems with Plastic BagsThe thin plastic bags are well known for their detrimental impact on the environment. Plastic bags traditionally are not biodegradable and end up in landfill, where they take over a century to break down, if they do so at all. Plastic bags can also escape, blown everywhere in the wind as they are so light, causing littering in hedgerows, trees and anywhere they can catch on objects. In aquatic or marine environments, plastic bags have been swallowed by fish, birds, whales and seals with disastrous consequences.The number of plastic bags used worldwide is huge. Approximately five hundred billion to one thousand billion plastic bags are used and then thrown away after just one use each year. That equates to 60 million every hour.
Paper Bags – Not Too EcofriendlyThe good thing about paper bags is that they break down easily once they have been used and discarded. Paper bags that go into landfill biodegrade quite quickly and their disposal is nowhere near as difficult as for plastic bags. Unfortunately, the cost of producing paper bags in terms of energy usage and environmental impact is quite high. Paper requires wood from trees and the demand can be quite great. It is possible to use sustainable wood, but the energy used in the manufacture of paper bags cannot be avoided.
What About Resusing Bags?One of the best solutions seems to be to reuse bags. This doesn’t really mean using a flimsy carrier bag twice or three times, as they rarely hold out that long. The real alternative is to use the plastic bags that are far more robust that are able to be used dozens if not hundreds of times. Most of the major supermarkets make their own and have branding messages and logos on the outside and these sell for about 5p per bag.
Buying several is very low cost and these can then be used to pack up an entire weekly shop for a family, week after week. The cost of manufacture of such bags is higher than a simple plastic bag, but this is spread over the many uses of the bag, so becomes negligible compared to disposable plastic or paper shopping bags.