Are tote bags bad for the environment? The problem with reusables | Metro News

2022-04-20 09:01:28 By : Ms. Katherine Min‘s Just1Change campaign aims to empower readers to make small changes to help fight the climate crisis.

Since the 5p charge on single-use carrier bags was introduced in 2015 – later raised to 10p – plastic bag sales in main supermarkets have been cut by a massive 95%, according to the UK government.

Many have instead opted to carry their shopping in tote bags, which are marketed as an environmentally-friendly option.

However, many scientists have criticised the use of tote bags, warning that the environmental cost of producing the bags outweighs the benefits.

So, are tote bags problematic? And what about other popular reusable items such as coffee cups?

Here is everything you need to know.

Unfortunately, tote bags are not as environmentally-friendly as you’d think.

According to a 2018 study by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark, an organic cotton tote needs to be used a whopping 20,000 times to offset its environmental impact.

This is due to the large amounts of energy and water needed to produce it, and its impact on the ozone layer.

That’s the equivalent of using just one tote bag every day for 54 years.

Another issue with tote bags is that they can be difficult to recycle, as many are covered in PVC-based logos and dyes.

Even if cotton totes are sent to be recycled, logos and messages printed on the bags are not recyclable and have to be cut out of the cloth, wasting an estimated 10 to 15% of materials received, according to a report by the New York Times.

You should still take your tote bag to a recycling centre or textile bank to be recycled rather than placing it in a general waste bin as wasting 15% is better than wasting 100%.

Reusable coffee cups have also been under the scrutiny of environmental scientists.

A 2015 study by the International Reference Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services (CIRAIG) compares the potential environmental impacts of a 16-ounce, single-use coffee cup made of a mix of cardboard and polyethylene (with a lid made of polystyrene) to those of a 16-ounce reusable cup made of stainless steel, polypropylene, and polycarbonate. 

Over a one-year span of using one cup a day, the reusable cups were associated with fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their single-use counterparts, and scored better in the human-health category for things such as toxic emissions, smog, and ozone depletion. They also tended to use fewer minerals and fossil fuels than disposable cups did.

However, the fact that you have to wash your reusable cup with soap and hot water puts it at a disadvantage when it comes to ecosystem-quality indicators.

Additionally, CIRAIG found that only with frequent use can one decrease the potential impacts of the reusable cup; depending on the reusable cup producer, it could take more than 1,000 uses to make up for the impacts of a single-use cup.

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No. Reusable bags and coffee cups are by far the better option for the environment – as long as you use them for years on end.

Nina Schrank, Senior Plastics Campaigner at Greenpeace UK, says that reusables are the way forward, so long as they are ‘reused over and over again’.

Schrank told ‘Reuse is far superior to single-use, but reusables like cotton tote bags are only effective when they’re built to last and reused over and over again for long periods of time.

‘If people use them like disposables, being used a few times then discarded, that defeats the point.

‘We need to move away from our throwaway culture to reuse as much as possible.’

Adam Herriott, Sector Specialist at the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP) agrees, telling ‘The most critical element to reduce the environmental impact is to ensure that bags are not used once and discarded.

‘They should be reused as many times as possible, and then recycled. This minimises the impact they have on the environment by reducing the need for raw materials and resources.

‘A bag for life should be used for life and not thrown away and discarded after one or two uses.’

So, instead of buying 20 tote bags because you think they look cute, pick just a few that you will use for everything.

The same goes for your coffee cup – ensuring that you wash it between uses.

Turn down free reusables from companies as this will send the message that they should stop producing them by the crateload.

Charlie Bradley Ross and Stephanie Steele, Director and Head of Content and Sourcing for The Sustainable Fashion Collective and Offset Warehouse respectively, warn that simply buying a reusable item isn’t enough – you have to actually change your habits to ensure that you are actually using it.

They explained to ‘Buying into sustainability fulfills the shopping desire and alleviates guilt – and yet we all have something reusable in our life already.

‘When it comes to purchasing a reusable as a replacement to single-use options, consider if you will enjoy switching your habit to use it.

‘If you don’t like the bag and won’t use it every time, then what’s the point?’

An organic cotton tote bags need to be used 20,000 times to offset the damage done to the environment during production.

Try opting for a tote bag made of one of the following materials to reduce your environmental impact:

You can buy tote bags made from 100% recycled materials from many online stores including Oxfam, Kind Bag, Herd, and Cycle of Good.

MORE : 23 things you didn’t know you could recycle

MORE : 15 common recycling myths debunked

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