Sustainability | Ecotrope

Reusable bags: Only superior to plastic if you reuse them - a lot

Ecotrope | Feb. 28, 2011 8:03 a.m. | Updated: Feb. 19, 2013 1:40 p.m.

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Ongoing research on the lifecycle impacts of reusable bags suggests you have to reuse a canvas bag a lot – try 171 times – break even with the overall environmental impact of a plastic bag.

Ongoing research on the lifecycle impacts of reusable bags suggests you have to reuse a canvas bag a lot – try 171 times – break even with the overall environmental impact of a plastic bag.

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee is taking up the statewide plastic bag ban bill in a work session tomorrow.

Meanwhile, PolitiFact has confirmed that a figure cited in a hearing on the bill – that plastic bags make up 12 percent of the trash collected from Oregon beaches – is mostly true (not by volume, but item for item).

And this post on TreeHugger captured my interest today. It discusses reports on unpublished government research from the UK that has found plastic bags are 200 times less damaging to the climate than reusable cotton bags. The study – which incorporates the impact of raw material extraction, bag production, transportation and disposal – zeroes in on how many times reusable bags are actually reused. For example, a cotton bag would need to reused every day for a year before it offset the environmental impact of one plastic bag. A canvas tote bag? 171 reuses to break even.

TreeHugger has a helpful guide to the environmental impacts of different kinds of reusable bags (canvas, polyester, polypropylene…) with this final word:

“What ultimately matters is if you actually use your reusable bags, or if you collect them dutifully from vendors and at conferences but then forget them at home every time you go to the store. If you can commit to using your canvas bag 171 times, or something like a Chicobag eleven times or more, then you have made a good decision. If you can’t commit to this, chose plastic over paper bags, reuse the bags at the store, repurpose them as trash can liners, and recycle the rest at your local grocery store.”

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