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Eco-friendly and sustainable plastic bag alternatives

As it’s the weekend and time for shopping and food prep for the week ahead we thought this was the perfect article to share. When you google ‘5 simple ways to reduce plastic use’ you’ll find that carrier bags usually rank first or second and this is because single-use plastic bags are bad for the environment on many levels yet are so widely used.

On average it takes between 400-1000 years for a single use plastic bag to decompose. A plastic bag used today might still be on the planet at the same time as your children’s children’s children’s children’s children – at least five generations or longer.

There are a lot of environmental factors to consider when choosing an alternative bag and this is where the debate begins. Things to consider include; the amount of carbon used to produce the bag, the pesticides used in growing the crop, how heavy the bag is to transport, how many times you’re likely to reuse the bag, and how you can dispose of it at the end of its life.

Now we all know that plastic is bad for our planet but what are the best alternatives and how else do they impact on our environment? Let’s get back to basics.

Plastic bags
Plastics bags are the worst of all bags in our comparison. The first and foremost reason is that they aren’t biodegradable and very often aren’t recycled. As a result plastic bags can end up in our oceans and harm marine life who believe that they are food. It’s estimated that globally 100,000 marine animals die every year as a result of plastic pollution and carrier bags are a significant contributor to this.

Even on land they cause problems because when broken down plastic bags turn into micro plastics which enter our food and water supply. In the last few years’ bags for life have got stronger they still aren’t half as durable as their non-plastic alternatives and so only end up being used a handful of times before often being discarded.

Paper bags 
While increasingly more shops are moving away from plastic bags some are adopting a paper bag scheme. The main positive of using paper bags is that they are fully biodegradable which is a big win for the planet however they do have a few drawbacks.

It turns out the energy used to create a paper bag is more than four times that of which is used in the creation on a plastic bag which means an increase in carbon in the atmosphere, and because they are heavier this means they cost more to transit.

If you’ve used paper bags I’m sure you’ll agree that they don’t last many uses before ripping but this also doubles up as a positive as it means they can easily be broken down in recycling or compost. While paper bags are still a better solution than plastic it isn’t necessarily the best for longevity or carbon emissions.  

Cotton bags
Cotton bags, which I’ve managed to acquire at least eight of from promotions or work, are perfect as a bag inside of a bag. They fold up reasonably small, super lightweight, and really strong.

In comparison to a single use plastic bag a cotton bag needs to be used 131 times due to amount of energy and water used to produce the cotton. Unless it’s made of organic cotton pesticides will be used in the production of the plant which also has its own environmental impact. Due to the strength of the material you can easily use cotton bags hundreds of times. They are washable and at the end of their life are biodegradable just pop them in your compost!

Jute/hessian bag
Hessian bags, or as some call them jute, look to be the best for the environment on most fronts. Hessian bags are made from a natural vegetable fibre making them both compostable and biodegradable.

The woven nature of the fabric makes them strong and hard wearing which means they will long outlive your average plastic bag. While growing the plant requires little or no pesticides and fertiliser, it requires a low amount of water to grow, and grows quickly. In the battle against its plastic rival the hessian bag wins hands down!

For us the best kind of bag is one that you remember to take to the supermarket and reuse over and over again. As we’ve mentioned in our previous articles don’t start grabbing all your items that aren’t great for the environment, in this case all of your bags, and head for the bin. Instead use these items to within an inch of their lives and then consider buying a more environmentally friendly alternative because this is much kinder to the environment in the long run!

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