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Which shopping bag really has the smallest carbon footprint: single-use plastic bags or reusable bags?

The results from a new study by the UK Environment Agency on the lifespan of shopping bags have been published, and the plastics industry has delightedly latched onto one key finding in the study:  If every type of bag was used only once and thrown away (including reusable shopping bags), plastic bags would have the lowest carbon footprint because of their manufacturing process.

But what the study also found was that recycled paper bags and two types of reusable shopping bags (low-density polyethylene and non-woven polypropylene) only need to be reused 3, 4, and 11 times respectively to make their carbon footprint equal to a single-use plastic bag that is only used once – and has a special agent added to the plastic that makes it degrade faster in a landfill.

When one considers how many uses a shopper will actually get out of a reusable bag, it just doesn’t make sense to use single-use plastic bags anymore.   “All multi-use bags need to be reused as much as possible to reduce their relative environmental impact and be responsibly recycled at the end of their life,” said the study.   Single-use plastic bags are only designed to be used once. Reusable bags, on the other hand, can be reused for life.

Even if one makes an effort to consistently reuse their plastic grocery bags they would eventually fall apart or harbour dangerous bacteria – they can’t go into the washing machine like reusable shopping bags can.   Some single-use plastic bags are reused once more as garbage bin liners or kitty litter bags. The study took this into account too, and if every single plastic bag was reused in this manner, it would only take two different types of reusable bags (paper and low-density polyethylene) one more reuse to match their carbon footprint, and non-woven polypropylene reusable bags only three more reuses to match.   But in the end, it shouldn’t take a government study to find that reusing materials is better for the environment – and it doesn’t take a scientist to see the impact of single-use plastic bags on in the environment: clogging up storm drains, stuck in trees or blowing around like plastic tumbleweeds on the side of the road.

Looking for a way to reduce, reuse and recycle?  If so, contact ICEGREEN today.  We can help.

About ICEGREEN: IceGreen is one of the largest manufacturers of lead-free and washable reusable bags, serving a wide variety of businesses and industries both large and small (Beverage Companies, Grocery Stores, Hotels, Pharmaceuticals and much more)  across North America and globally.  And, as the manufacturer, you’re dealing directly with us, saving you time and money.  Looking for the best in reusable bags and recycling products?  Contact ICEGREEN today.