Plastic vs Paper Bags vs Cotton Totes: Which is the Bigger Devil?
Keys check, wallet check, charging cable (iPhone’s shady battery life), tote taken, lights off - is the mantra I use every time I leave home.
But wait! Why am I telling you this? Simply because, I want to share the trick I use to always remember carrying a reusable tote before stepping out. And this way I totally avoid using the evil plastic bag.
By now we all know that plastic is non-biodegradable and is toxic for both our health and our planet. At the pace we’re going, by 2050 we will end up having more plastic in the sea than fish. Scary AF? Yes. Every piece of plastic ever made still exists!!!
Despite our new-found distaste for the single-use carrier, the Earth Policy Institute estimates that around 2 million plastic bags are used every minute.
So, does it mean a paper bag or cotton tote is an easy replacement for better environment? Well, it’s more complicated than we think. Let me break it down.
I used to believe that the only polluting factor was the decomposition aspect. However, recently I learnt that it’s the complete lifecycle analysis of a product that determines the carbon footprint of any resource.
Simply put – it is the sourcing of the raw materials, energy utilized in manufacturing and transporting, usage and finally its decomposition that determines the overall environmental impact.
Let me jot down quick snackable pointers for each:
- Plastic bags:
- Pros – accessible, reusable, water proof, strong, cheap, recyclable (though less than 10% is recycled, if at all).
- Cons – Plastic bags don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade – breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits. A plastic bag can take between 400 to 1,000 years to disintegrate completely.
As it breaks down, plastic particles contaminate soil and waterways and enter the food web. Where animals accidentally ingest them and die an untimely death.
- Paper bags:
- Pros – recyclable, bio-degradable
- Cons – loses strength when wet, deforestation, 6 to 10 times heavier than plastic counterpart which adds to transportation costs, gas emissions, and waste disposal weight
- 43 reuses necessary to have the same cumulative environmental impact (water use, energy use, etc.) as a classic plastic bag
- Cotton Totes:
- Pros – reusable, strong, easy to maintain, washable, easy DIY
- Cons – energy intensive production leading to higher carbon footprint
- Hundreds of reuses necessary to have the same cumulative environmental impact (water use, energy use, etc.) as a classic plastic bag
Basically, single use anything is a horrible idea. Whether it is plastic or not. Replacing plastic bags with paper ones or cotton totes have their own set of damaging side-effects.
Therefore, the key here is to reuse till it dies a natural death, so to say. Keep one cloth tote in your bag, one in your car, your office desk, in short everywhere possible. This way we’ll always be shopping-ready. Remember, never allow a bag to become litter – recycle, reuse and repurpose your bags.
I promise to share more information as I tread on the greener path. I just love tripping with you, buds.
Sumedha – Your Eco Storyteller