As environmental groups continue to put pressure on Westminster to introduce a carrier bag tax on single-use plastic bags in England, retailers and consumers find themselves searching for an alternative – but what are the alternatives, and are they really kinder on the environment?
There is much to consider when choosing a plastic bag substitution, and as a true ‘green’ alternative has yet to be invented, we need to look at the pros and cons of paper carrier bags, cotton carrier bags and jute carrier bags, before we can make an informed decision.
A high quality carrier bag that is long lasting and designed to be reused over and again saves on both resources and energy, which is why many are turning to ‘bags for life’, namely cotton and jute carrier bags.
Made of natural materials, these bags are strong, reusable, and will biodegrade once they reach the end of their lifecycle – but they are heavier than the alternatives, and when sourced from India, for example, they leave a larger carbon footprint.
Environmental and human rights issues also come into place when cotton carrier bags are sourced from developing countries, and so we need to look for words such as ‘Organic, Unbleached, and Fair-Trade’ to ensure our bags for life really are kinder on the planet and the people that make them.
The pros of paper carrier bags are numerous; they are strong, reusable, highly degradable, compostable and recyclable, and if we all dispose of them correctly once they have served their purpose, they could be a highly successful alternative to the plastic bag.
Paper carrier bags can weigh up to ten times more than a plastic carrier bag, depending on the paper used, and therefore add to global warming issues when transported over long distances. They are also bulkier and take up more room in the landfill if they are not recycled correctly –but this can all be avoided if we source our paper bags locally and ensure they end up in the compost or recycle bin.
Despite the controversy surrounding this supermarket staple, recent studies indicate the simple plastic carrier bag is not the ‘eco-villain’ many would have us believe, and that if they are reused and disposed of correctly, they can remain a convenient packaging solution for our weekly shop, without having a negative impact on our planet.