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Plastic bag sales in England halved in past year (bbc.co.uk)
200 points by asplake 75 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 256 comments

I‘m as much against (single use) plastics as the next guy but what’s the alternative here?

Studies have shown multiple times [1], [2] that cotton bags require far more energy and water to produce than almost everything else and need to be reused circa 7.100 times for non organic and twenty-thousand times for organic cotton until they surpass plastic bags.

I have some cotton bags and they are all produced as cheap as possible and I’m doubting wether they even can be used thousands of times before they disintegrate or some seams come apart.

In fact LDPE bags have the lowest environmental impact of them all. Unbleached paper and bipolymer bags come close after that.

The recommendation for end of life is always to reuse them as waste/trash bags by the way, recycling plastic bags has a larger environmental impact. So best to use LDPE bags a few times and then reuse as waste bag seems to be the best option.

[1] - https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-...

[2] - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/life-cycle-assess...

I didn’t believe it was about energy use. Cotton bags don’t kill fish and break into micro plastics. I’m yet to see a cotton bag floating down the Thames.

Like most of my friends, I’ve taken to carrying a rucksack around, with an additional bag-for-life inside. I don’t recall the last time I had to buy an additional bag. I guess I’ve saved around 300 bags in the past year.

As much as I hate plastics in water - it's the rising temperature that we have to primarily care about. +5*C will bring devastation to the planet and humanity. The impact of warming is not comparable to the impact of pollution (be it air, water or land pollution).

It's a false equivalence to claim that we can only care about one but not the other. Plastic pollution is threatening entire species and food chains. We need to tackle both problems simultaneously.

Not to mention that everyone just assumes that fewer plastic bags sold = many more cotton bags produced without providing any numbers. Maybe plastic bags are mostly being reused more? Maybe people remember to bring a cotton bag they already owned anyway to the store more often?

Also, that 7100x number is for ozone. For climate impact, it's 52x, and that number doesn't include disposal. See hannob's comment: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20581751 and the point in the tweet chain here: https://twitter.com/arthurhcyip/status/1115749691566821376

I just have these giant bags that every supermarket sells for like 2 pounds - they are made from plastic, but I've had the same set of 5-6 bags for a couple years now. It doesn't have to be a choice between a shitty 5p plastic bag or an energy intensive cotton bag - large sturdy plastic bags also exist.

It’s not a false equivalence.

The parent is saying, “A and B are both bad. A is worse by an order of magnitude. I (and others) should care about A more.” There’s no suggestion of A and B being falsely equivalent to each other on the same order of magnitude based on a loosely shared common feature or property that is manipulated or misrepresented to incorrectly/dishonestly establish A and B as equivalent. That is what false equivalence means.

The parent is grading two bad things according to their estimated impact, and is perfectly justified in choosing to focus on the one they think is worse. They aren’t suggesting nobody care about item B—just that it not be cared about more than the far worse item A.[0]

[0]: I'm just rephrasing the parent's argument and pointing out the argument is not equating A and B (which is required for a false equivalence); I'm not taking a position on whether or not the argument is correct.

For global warming to be relevant in a conversation about culling plastic waste, it needs be shown that either the efforts are mutually exclusive, or that fighting plastic waste somehow increases global warming. The former I’ll leave to speak for itself, the latter is a bold claim that requires actual numbers: how many people switch to a supposedly worse reusable bag after said ban (as opposed to just reusing the existing bags), and how much does that actually influence global warming? The >1000x number posted elsewhere in this thread was about ozone. Once you have those numbers, there is one final question to answer: is it worth it?

Without those numbers, bringing up climate change does little more than discourage a worthwhile effort.

> ... bringing up climate change does little more than discourage a worthwhile effort.

I almost entirely agree. From a purely environmental perspective, habitat pollution and species destruction is 100% worth caring about, understanding, and reducing/eliminating. I think we're sadly living in a time where public discourse has equated environmental impact with climate impact, and fails to keep them separated when necessary.

Some things are worth caring about and doing because they are destructive to the environment(s) on Earth as a whole—and we should avoid destroying the environment itself, as well as habitats, ecosystems, and species when we realize we are doing so. Some things are worth caring about, understanding, and reducing/eliminating because they are destroying the climate itself, which is getting dangerously close to becoming actively unfriendly to humans and other species in a relatively short timeframe. These things are occasionally, but not always, interacting & influencing the other. Environmental destruction can, in turn, cause climate destruction/change. The reverse also holds. I think many people have difficulty discussing one without bringing up the other, or in very specific cases, discussing them as if they are equivalent.

However, the two examples I called out as accusations of false equivalence that do not hold were more whataboutism than false equivalency. The accused were not claiming the two things to be the same—they directly admitted they were different issues, with different concerns and impacts, and still wanted to push that one was more important (at least to them) than the other. Had the accusers pointed out the whataboutism, I wouldn't have commented. But they called it false equivalency, which prompted me to point out that their responses actually rode the line of false equivalence far more egregiously than the comments to which they replied. I stand by that assessment. I wasn't seeking to defend the accused's whataboutism—it was both distracting and unhelpful. But it was important to me—some random internet nobody who really doesn't mean much of anything at all—to point out that the accusations were incorrect and try to prod the accusers to not go throwing around a term like false equivalence without it being warranted. I guess just because words and terms matter. Public discourse is better when we keep that in mind.

The false equivalence is assuming the impact on A and B is equivalent. If A is 100x as bad as B, but X’s impact on A is 1/1,000 as much as B then B is more important.

Unfortuetly you cant have every thing as priority 1 (as anyone who works in tech knows).

This is something the "green" movement needs to take on board - unfortunately a lot of the hobbyist end of the movement doesn't really get this.

Plastic pollution isn't valid argument against use of plastics in developed world. When you throw out your bag, it doesn't end in ocean, it ends in a dump, is incinerated or recycled. Plastics which end in ocean are virtually all from developing countries without functioning waste management.[0]

[0] https://www.dw.com/en/almost-all-plastic-in-the-ocean-comes-...

I'm trusting the upper level comment on the numbers:

> Studies have shown multiple times [1], [2] that cotton bags require far more energy and water to produce than almost everything else and need to be reused circa 7.100 times for non organic and twenty-thousand times for organic cotton until they surpass plastic bags.

And yeah sure, both is better than one. But one of those two is much more important. One will remove , say, ~10% of species and humans, the other will remove, say, ~50% of species and humans.

It's still a false equivalence. Comparing the comparatively higher energy costs of making reusable bags [1] does not compare to the systemic causes of the climate catastrophe. Arguably the behavioral pattern of using non-durable, non-reusable or non-repairable items that are "cheap" [2] is one of the systemic problems.

The climate catastrophe also is not only caused by rising greenhouse gases (although yes, that's causing the most disasterous results). Other results of unbridled human (ab)use of their natural environment is causing biodiversity collapses everywhere. Single use plastics are an important factor there, wreaking havoc to many different environments.

Sometimes priorities really are complicated but in this case they aren't.

[1]: I'd argue flimsy cotton bags are a non-solution to this problem, as they still do not really discourage single use. They don't fundamentally change people's behaviour, and as a result don't address the systemic cultural problem. Proper, well made, high quality, repairable shopping bags exist. It's a shame we need to be so inconvienced to go out shopping prepared, but that's a cultural mindset we have to get over.

[2]: They are only "cheap" because the real impact of these products are not accounted for in the price you pay for it. Again, it's a systemic cultural problem that this is acceptable and even desired.

You’re now the second commenter to incorrectly accuse a parent comment of a false equivalence. Neither commenter to whom either of you replied were claiming rising temperatures and reducing single-use plastics are equivalent—which is a necessary condition for them to be making a false equivalence between the two.

Each commenter is stating the two things are definitively NOT equivalent, that one is far worse than the other, and that everyone can care about both—but should really care about the temperatures issue more because it’s worse by a lot.

It sounds like you and the other false-equivalence-accuser are the ones who are making false equivalency happen here—you’re both saying that because rising temperatures and habitat pollution/destruction are bad for the environment or Earth's climate, they are both equally bad and worth caring about equally, or at least simultaneously—THAT is so textbook false equivalence I'm struggling to understand how you and the other FE-accuser are doing it without realizing.

Sorry, I edited my comment after/while you posted yours. The 7100x number is totally misleading because it's the maximum over all factors they considered, which turned out to be ozone depletion. But the study didn't communicate that well and apparently nobody who reported on it saw the footnote. The number of reuses required to get the same climate impact is 52x, excluding disposal. See the last paragraph of my edited comment.

It's still a relatively minor issue. There are far greater sources of microplastics, especially wear and tear from tires, paint:


We'd need to drive way less, stop sending products overseas, build high speed underground trains. Even more importantly we'd need to make sure that India and Africa are going to follow the same principles because they're going to exceed the consumption of the West in future. That being said, I do not care because I do not plan to have children.

> I won’t have children

That is a bit sad. We need more thoughtfulness-enhancing genes in the genetic pool.

Humans can only focus on a few things at a time, so between job concerns, family concerns do you really want to risk global warming versun some harm to food chains (nothing new)?

As much as I see the fight against the global warming the most urgent and existential problem we are facing, it is important to do the right things to fight global warming. So, how much energy is used when creating a cloth bag? How does this compare to a single drive with a car to the groceries store? Is this anything that matters in comparison to driving, flying, heating, producing electricity?

Personally, I have a "consumption" of less than 1 cloth bag per year, I fear I commit worse sins to the climate than that during that year.

> The impact of warming is not comparable to the impact of pollution (be it air, water or land pollution).

But impact of the air pollution is the warming!

No it's not. The CO2 and methane that causes warming doesn't have effects on health (at least at current levels), and conversely smog actually cools the local area by blocking sunlight rather than warming it.

The CO2 is the pollution in the air. The effect it has on health is warming the planet. Even the US Government will tell you this!


> Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by more than a third since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived "forcing" of climate change.

We can and should act on both; the plastic pollution is a problem where the symptoms could occur only in 3 decades, similar to global warming, there is already a very very large number of symptoms in the ecosystem as plastic clogs up the food chain.

Buy a single cloth bag and keep it for life, atleast in my area, they survive a long time.

> I’m yet to see a cotton bag floating down the Thames.

When they are widly used you will.

I've used canvas bag from Tesco. It fell apart after few years. I definitely did not use it 7000 times.

When plastic bags were free I was reusing them as trash bags if I collected too many of them. Now I'm buying dedicated trashbags. I definitely spend more on plastic bags then I used to. I can only hope part of this money goes towards environmental efforts.

Selection bias... I used those bags for garbage too, but the number of bags I received to the number I used for that purpose was not comparable. There was already an abundance.

PlanetMoney said you needed to use a bag 131 times to be equivalent, not 7k. I see numbers floating around but no sources.

In any case. Reusing a bag not only reduces the bag usage the first time it's used but every subsequent time too. A reusable bags isn't preventing a single plastic bag, it's preventing at least one, probably two, maybe three and possibly four plastic bags each use considering how durable and large they are. Which is to say, you could fit (at most) two double bags of groceries into a single reusable.

> I’m yet to see a cotton bag floating down the Thames.

>> When they are widly used you will.

But all those cotton bags you see quickly disintegrate back into the biome, while the plastic ones stay plastic for a million years...

My canvas bag had thick plastic lining. You'd definitely would see it. Selling point of those is multiple use not biodegradability.

I don't think anybody's claiming that canvas bags are the answer. As you said, they contain a lot of plastic. The comment you replied to was about cotton bags, not canvas.

Oh. I thought they were the same thing.

I had one that looked pretty much like this: https://m.indiamart.com/proddetail/tesco-shopping-bag-368709...

Is it canvas or cotton?

Hard to tell what it's made of from the tiny image, but the cotton bags I know are 100% cotton (except for the print), like this: https://www.sinplastico.com/3742-large_default/organic-cotto... while canvas bags are usually made from cotton + PVC.

But that's just a convenience issue. There are some many other plastic bags still around that may not be as flexible as the generic fruit and vegetable bag but can still be used for most types of waste. For example I have been using cereal bags for the same task and while they do not fit as nicely in the trash container and you have to be a little more careful when you throw something in, they absolutely work too. Although in the long term we should maybe get rid of the cereal bag too and just use a multi-use hard plastic container that you have to clean with water after use.

It's not even that though - with the 5p charge and them not being the default, I've stopped using them in instances where I wouldn't have needed them, but would have taken them anyway.

I'd always get a plastic bag with my £3 meal-deal from Tesco, but since it came in, I've just carried the stuff.

Haven't delved into the numbers yet, but am assuming they don't take into account recycled cotton, or if they're upcycled from other products. As for non-cotton alternatives - heavy duty plastic bags (i.e. Ikea ones or "bag for life"), rucksacks or handbags, re-used boxes, personal trolleys, etc... there are dozens of alternatives to single use plastics.

We still do get single use plastics for meat sales, and I reuse them as my bathroom bin-liners, so still have double duty without the dozens of other pointless plastic bags per trip

My counter anec-data: I got a canvas tote bag from the coffee festival years ago, its usage is easily in the 4 figures now, and still seems strong as an ox.

A billion times this.

If forget a long life bag, I'll either go without or reuse one of the cardboard produce crates that are freely available in many British supermarkets. We then re-reuse those crates at home for craft fun.

The popular British past time of painting buses on old wooden crates...

> We still do get single use plastics for meat sales, and I reuse them as my bathroom bin-liners, so still have double duty without the dozens of other pointless plastic bags per trip

I may use fewer carrier bags - but I use a hell of a lot more black bin liners over a given time period - and that is a lot more plastic.

Were normal shop plastic bags really big enough for your bins? I'm using the same number of full-size bin liners as I was before the ban, and the same number of bags in my smaller bins (which are almost wholly the meat bags).

My own anec-data: every place I've ever lived I've needed a much larger bin than could be suitably lined by anything other than a picture-frame bag from The Range. Same with pretty much every other person's house I've been in as well. Not questioning your use case, but I honestly can't picture having a bin that small that a Sainsburys carrier would be at all useful anywhere other than a bathroom or for a tiny corner in a bedroom.

That being said, I stand by the point I was alluding to: extra bin liners that are actively paid for is surely less impactful than endless extra bags for shopping, or which only a handful will properly be recycled as bin bags?

(As a kid in a 4 person household, I remember our under stairs cupboard basically being full of carrier-bags, they weren't in a landfill, but they certainly weren't all being put to any acceptable use as our "small trash bag" requirement was orders of magnitude less than the number of bags coming into the house.)

Maybe we should have smaller bins?

It seems odd that you'd go from using 10-20 litre shopping bags to full-size 70-100 litre black bags. There are intermediates. There are non-plastic, fully-biodegradable options too, all the way up to 240l garden waste bags.

I read [2] because that seems to be the one that discusses the numbers you present.

The number of reuses for cotton bags that you need to make up for climate change reasons is 52 for conventional cotton and 149 for conventional cotton.

The 7,100 number for conventional cotton and 20K for organic cotton is for impact to ozone depletion alone. If you remove that, then the next biggest impact is for water usage which is 1,400 for conventional and 3,800 for cotton.

I do not believe that the ozone depletion due to the production of cotton is an issue that is causing a problem. A google search of "ozon depletion cotton" turned up only this paper for me.

Water usage of cotton processing is a concern and it is well documented. However, I have cotton T-shirts. In fact, I have more cotton T-shirts than I really need. If we need to reduce cotton usage (and I think that's a pretty good idea), then we should aim at that directly. The increase in cotton production from carrier bags will have a minimal impact on total cotton production. If we are going to reduce cotton useage let's do it for things that are less important than reusable carrier bags.

Finally, I have a carrier bag that my wife made me 5 years ago. It is still in perfect condition. I use it every single day. I expect to use it for at least another 5 years , if not 10.

From the paper:

"The number of times for “all indicators” refers to the highest number of reuse times among those calcu- lated for each impact category. For light carrier bags (LDPE, PP, PET...) the high numbers of reuse times are given by a group of impact categories with similar high values. Conversely, for composite and cotton the very high number of reuse times is given by the ozone depletion impact alone. Without considering ozone depletion, the number of reuse times ranges from 50 to1400 for conventional cotton, from 150 to 3800 for organic cotton, and from 0 to 740 for the composite material bag. The highest number is due to the use of water resource, but also to freshwater and terrestrial eutrophication. Results for the number of reuse times for each impact category, minimum-maximum ranges and average number of reuse times are provided in Appendix C."

The point you are making is great in regard that using a newly made cotton bag is obviously quite wasteful if you could just sew close the neck and arm holes in a larger old t-shirt you no longer use, add some handles and be done. I have gotten quite a number of cotton bags as goody bag from conferences (over the last 2 years some have even started handing out simple backpacks) and those are obviously bad but a proper cotton bag that you buy and use intentionally easily lasts 500 times.

People are missing the point on why you should be using cotton bags instead. Yeah they are more expensive to produce, and it is doubtful if you will ever be able to use the cotton bag enough to balance out the production costs, but that was never the point. It is trash reduction that is the goal, and the impact if the bag is left in nature. The cotton bags are a lot less harmful if they get end up outside in nature compared to plastic bags.

I think the point is that the quantity of CO2e dumped into the atmosphere when you make a cotton bag has a much worse environmental impact than the plastic bag dumped in landfill.

[1] https://medium.com/@tabitha.whiting/should-you-swap-plastic-... "The study estimated that a cotton tote bag’s total carbon footprint was 598.6lb of CO2e. This compared to 3.48lb of CO2e for a standard plastic bag. That means that you would need to use the tote bag 172 times for every 1 time you used the plastic bag."

I doubt that's a significant factor in global green house gas production while plastic bags are a significant factor in plastic pollution. This seems like a basic optimization problem. Yes, this approach uses a tiny bit more memory, but a lot less CPU. Running out of memory is a problem, but there are likely other areas where we can save a whole lot more (e.g. eat less meat, don't generate demand for food that was shipped around the world).

> I think the point is that the quantity of CO2e dumped into the atmosphere when you make a cotton bag has a much worse environmental impact than the plastic bag dumped in landfill.

The reason these laws get enacted is because not enough of the plastic bags end up in landfills.

Yeah, but the problem is that a lot of plastics don't get dumped in landfill. They reach the water, and the micro-plastics enter the food chain and produce a toxic hormonal responses in animals.

[1] https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/from-fish-to-huma...

[2] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6132564/

I find I can carry at least 4 times as much stuff in a reusable bag as a disposable one. They've done remarkable work in making those disposable bags thinner, which is especially helpful when you're only buying a few light items, but for larger trips it's simply not a 1:1 substitution.

There are so many factors involved (CO2, petroleum drilling, microplastics, other pollution, etc) that it's not easy to provide a definitive ratio. I do think it's good that the discussion has reduced the amount of plastic being used in the bags themselves (though I'd need to see a study if that ends up reducing the total amount of plastic involved, or if they're just using more bags). I think it's good that people are now in a better position to forego bags entirely rather than put a single item in a bag simply because they're there and free.

Mostly, though, I'd caution against citing numbers that assume that one reusable bag is exactly the capacity of one disposable one.

"Dumped in landfill" is an optimistic worst case for plastic waste, though. Dumped outside the waste-processing stream so it ends up in the food chain or bobbing down the river - that's the problem case we're trying to avert.

Here in the UK the trend now is to use stronger plastic bags that are more easily reusable as opposed to cloth. We have several in a drawer at home, and I keep one in my rucksack at all times so it gets a lot of use. But I'd be interested to know how much more efficient it is than the cheap thin plastic. While I do my best to reuse it, I'd be surprised if it lasts 100 shops.

But what I think the article fails to mention is that it's not about stopping the use of plastic bags, but more about encouraging their reuse instead of just throwing them away. The idea being that if fewer are produced, fewer are likely to end up in the environment.

As you point out, an issue is that sometimes we don't plan in advance so when we pop in a store/supermarkets we don't have any bags. We end buying one of those strong plastic bags because that's what's available and because they are only 10p (and single-use bags cost only 5p). We basically use these bags as single use ones.

IMHO, supermarkets should have continued to dispense single-use bags (could be paper instead of plastic) but sold at a price that really made people try to avoid them, say £1. Reusable bags should then be priced higher.

Problem is politics and pissing off customers/voters...

This. They stopped selling single use bags.

Now I just have the option to buy a "bag for life" or nothing. Bags need to be priced at £1-2 to get people to get in the habit of carrying a suitable bag to the shop.

They don't, clearly.

> Since 2015, when a 5p charge was introduced to tackle plastic pollution, the number being used is down by 90%.

My (anecdotal) evidence is before they were charged, people were using multiple bags without any consideration of whether they were necessary or not, whereas now people may still buy one bag every time they shop - is that better than the 4 they were getting before, as people might bring them occasionally? (I had a short look, but couldn't find any numbers to the number of times the 15p bags in sainsburys have to be reused, or the number of times it's estimated people reuse them).

This is such an important point! A relatively tiny charge had a massive impact on consumer behavior. This is real-world efficient market theory. If you put 5 cents on the counter and say "take it if you want it" then people will take it. What we have learned is that 90% of bags were essentially not needed, and so only the lightest touch was required.

Punitive measures ("we should charge $1-2 for a bag") are counter-productive because the harm to society actually exceeds the benefit to society. We are not trying to eliminate every plastic bag at any cost. This is not a plastic bag crusade. The goal cannot be absolutism, it must be based on efficient market economics where the new regulation actually benefits society.

I think you are missing the point of my comment above.

Many, if not most supermarkets in the UK no longer have single-use bags at all. The 5p charge has become irrelevant because there are no longer any such bags.

BUT now they have reusable plastic bags, that are much sturdier and thus made of more plastic, that they sell for 10p.

Most people do bring their own reusable bags with them but some don't, and as said sometimes you simply did not plan to shop and simply don't have a bag with you. In such cases people end up paying 10p for these reusable bags and probably throw them away.

Therefore, I think that single-use bags are still have a valid use: Sometimes you need a bag just for this one time and it would be best if such a bag could use the least material possible. They don't have to be plastic.

The more expensive price is intended at ensuring that people buy them only in emergency cases. Reusable bags should also be sold for more than 10p so that people care enough to actually keep them for a long time.

Note also that the article mentions statistics about single-use bags. Those 10p bags are not single-use so don't appear at all in the figures! A cynic would suspect supermarkets have found a loophole here...

Given the scale of environmental challenges facing the planet, that some people are so ignorant that bringing a bag to the shops with then is too much hassle really boils my piss.

It's really not hard. I have a couple of bags in my laptop bag and always carry a reusable folding bag in my jacket. We have a few in the boot of the car. That accounts for 90% of time I might need one.

>>I have a couple of bags in my laptop bag and always carry a reusable folding bag in my jacket. We have a few in the boot of the car. That accounts for 90% of time I might need one.

you must shop frequently.

I shop 1 to 2 times a month, and buy a large qty when I shop. I absolutely despise going to the store. It is not uncommon for me to need 20+ bags per shopping trip

When I go there are also often people that with 2+ carts, having had to wait in line behind such people using the reusable bags it increased the check out time by a factor of at minimum 2, and sometimes 5x what would be normal due to people attempting to shove as much as they can in a limited number of bags, and they often times have far fewer bags than are need which delay's everyone as they mess around with moving things to maximize space

Why not deliver to your home in that case? You won't use up bags, and it's more environmentally friendly than driving yourself to the shop because the drivers are making multiple stops. It's wonderfully convenient and you can choose how specific of time you want (price for delivery will vary)

I gave up ordering online because where I live they deliver the goods in disposable shopping bags. They even use more bags than I would because they separate the products by type. But I'm glad to see that in other places they seem to be smarter about it.

Delivery is not really an option where I live. Curb side pick up is but

1. I do not trust them to pick out produce for me

2. They do use plastic bags, we have no taxes or prohibition on the bags here

3. I am not willing to pay the Delivery Fee + Tip. Food prices are high enough as it is

sounds like you should be paying someone to do the shopping for you.

The headline would suggest they don't need to because people already do. To counter your anecdote, I no longer use plastic bags at all.

Can confirm. From the UK here and most supermarkets will now only sell 10p strong plastic bags rather than flimsy single-use bags. I have maybe 10 or so in a cupboard and I'll take 4 or 5 along on a shop. Maybe I'll be a bag short and have to pay another 10p for a bag, but that's better than 5 or 6 single-use bags.

This prompts a question I'd like to know the answer to. One of these thick new bags is equivalent to how many of the skinny old single-use ones in terms of environmental impact?

The supermarket Iceland (I think it was) said that after they stopped selling single-use bags they were now selling far fewer bags in total but the total amount of plastic sold had actually increased because the new bags are so much thicker.

'We have several in a drawer at home'

Same here and every so often we end up with so many that they get thrown away to make space.

Sometimes it's just not convenient to carry a bag around with you, especially not the 'bag for life' kind that are bulky and can't be carried discreetly in a trouser pocket.

How about something like this [0]? Weighs 46 grams, 25L volume, supports a 130kg load.

[0] https://seatosummit.com/product/travelling-light-shopping-ba...

Absolutely. I've had one similar to these for about 5 years and used it for almost every shopping trip, including hanging down from my bikes handlebar where they sometimes got into the spokes but still were fine after some cleaning. After those 5 years I lend it to my grandma and she lost the smaller bag you wrap it in and the handle got a bit lose so it needed some sewing. It may not last for 7000 times as others have claimed in this thread but 500 is easily doable. Anyways, absolutely recommended.

Thanks, now on my list of things to buy when I get around to it. ;)

> so often we end up with so many that they get thrown away to make space.

Please consider donating these instead of throwing them away.

At worst, they'll be shredded by the Goodwill machine, at best they'll be given to people when using a charity, whether that means a bag for shopping, schools, or to hold dog supplies in.

After reading through the results of parent's [1] I'm wondering: Are they simply comparing environmental impact of the bags?

If so the numbers might be misleading because if someone buys a plastic bag the number of reuses is very limited. Let's say you buy 10 plastic bags a year for 5 years as compared to reusing 1 cotton bag in the same time period.

This would mean that in order to compare the environmental impact of both scenarios over that timeframe you'd need to divide the numbers of the cotton bag by 50 (10 plastic bags for 5 years) to get comparable results.

If this logic is correct this would mean that you'd need to reuse a conventional cotton bag 142 times and an organic bag 400 times over 5 years to get the same impact.

These numbers sound quite reasonable/realistic to me, assuming other people use their cotton bags as often as we do.

The problem with these studies is that you can't just correct the impact of a cotton bag, you also need to correct the impact of the plastic bags. [For me at least] The estimated impact of plastic bags is also wrong, so two wrong estimates aren't going to lead to a correct conclusion unless you get lucky. While plastic bags might get re-used only once, and cotton bags might be more durable, but that isn't the only thing to consider.

I re-use nearly all of my plastic bags, but only once. They have limited durability but wide applicability. Cat litter, trash bins in bedrooms and bathrooms, and bundling up oily paper towels in the garage. My waste management service requires that I bag all my trash, and I use my plastic bags from stores for this. If I switched to cotton bags for shopping I would still need plastic bags for my garbage, so if I switched I would actually be hurting the environment. There's no way I'm using cotton bags to bag up my trash and cat poop. I wouldn't be opposed to biodegradable bags from the supermarket though, as long as it isn't something that I have to pay extra for.

I know that not everyone re-uses all of their plastic bags, but how many people like me does it take before the world is worse off? Now we're shopping with cotton bags and buying a box of plastic bags to throw our garbage in? What is the loss rate of cotton bags? If I lose one per year am I losing them before getting to the break even point?

> If this logic is correct

It is not.

If canvas bag costs 7000 plastic bags then you have to use it 7000 thousand times like you would use a plastic bag to get the same impact. It doesn't matter how often you use it.

If you divide 7000 by 50 you are just saying you have to use canvas bag like you used 50 canvas bags, 140 times. Since you got 5 years of groceries out of those 50 bags you'd need 5*140 years to get 140 as much of utility out of canvas bag.

The question is what the all-in costs are. Specifically, manufacture is not the. full lifecycle, and plastic persists in the environment for decades, if not millennia.

Alternatives which balance modest production costs, greater ruse, and biodegrade more quickly, can come out on top.

Many multiple use bags are thick plastick or have thick plastic inner lining. They have less plastic than 7000 "single use" plastic bags but they don't have 0.

I hope we won't let most of our trash to persist in the environment for millenia.

In Italy all supermarkets and grocery shops now use biodegradable bioplastic bags. They are not very strong so you need to use more of them, so you don't fill each one too much. You can then use them to collect compostable waste.

I have no clue how much energy producing them requires, but if they work as advertised they seem to solve the after-use-pollution problem.

Perhaps an alternative is the "old way".

bring your own bottle to be filled with milk / wine / oil.

Buy meat from the butcher wrapped in paper.

Buy bread from a baker wrapped in paper.

I remember that all happening as a child

But that was expensive time consuming and frequently unhygienic

Bringing refillable containers is also being trialled in the UK and seems to be working well, but it’s very early days.


I like the idea very much.

We have a shop in Hanover, Germany, where I live that sells a lot of groceries without any packaging at all.

You just bring your own reusable containers to fill with whatever you need.

They have a lot of inventory like pasta, oils, grains, beans, detergents.. They themself buy everything from factories in reusable containers so no waste anywhere.

I'm in a buying club with a bunch of my neighbors. We buy things in bulk, 50lb bags of rice, 5 gallons of oil, etc. We split things up and people bring their own reusable containers. Saves a ton of money and plastic waste, plus get to make neighbors into friends.

Your meat from the butcher isn't wrapped in paper?

My local grocery store butcher tends to put meat in a plastic bag, then wrap that in paper.

Same - else meat juices will slowly soak the paper and leak out. My fishmonger does the same.

finding a butcher (that is not in a large supermarket) is hard going in urban UK

I'm on the coast and finding a fish monger is like looking for the diamond in the rough.

For me, the alternative is to use something that already exists in my house (my backpack, a bag that was already given to me, etc) rather than consuming multiple plastic bags on every trip. Not everyone is going out and buying cotton bags to replace plastic so this seems inaccurate. It’s more about changing habits.

We bought some reusable cotton when the ban first came in, and they're all still going. We have a few of the heavier weight plastic too> As yet only one has failed and that was one of the throwaway style but simply thicker. The better ones have stitched reinforcement and handles and seem like they'll go indefinitely.

We used to get so many disposable bags that we had never in a decade or two bought bin bags, and still managed to keep accumulating. Now we have to buy those, although we try to keep use to the absolute minimum by being creative with the unavoidable plastic we do get. It's a bit frustrating.

I'd prefer paper and card once again, as those tended to disappear quite benignly if thrown away carelessly, single use bags were an ugly blight everywhere.

> what’s the alternative here?

Not using disposable bags, plastic or not. I live in London and I see a lot of people at my local Sainsbury's with e.g gym bags to carry their stuff.

Sure, if you had to get a plastic bag do use it for rubbish, but even then there are biodegradable ones.

> what’s the alternative here?

Reusable plastic? Or even reusing the same 'single-use' plastic? Or just carry stuff with your hand when you're capable of doing so, even if it's mildly inconvenient. I already do that and I'm glad I don't get a plastic bag for no reason when it's just a handful of things I can carry.

Don't forget about backpacks. No need to carry anything at all if you can just wear a backpack.

I feel like walking in and then out of a store with nothing in your hands and a backpack that becomes full with merchandise can look a tad bit shady to be honest. Obviously you'll have a receipt and they can ask you if they care, but I feel like I'd rather not raise eyebrows in the first place unless I have to...

The "bag tax" normalises this. Twenty years ago, if I walked into a supermarket to buy one item I would assume I should take a bag (which was "free") and a receipt for the reason you give - it might look shady otherwise.

Today I shove it in my pockets and walk out the door. Because of the "bag tax" people don't think "Wow, that guy just stole that" or even "Crazy person, why not use a bag" they think "Oh yeah, good idea, no bag tax".

It's possible, I'm not sure. I'll have to pay more attention to see if it's become normalized where I am. I can't seem to recall seeing people shoving things into their backpacks, but I haven't particularly been paying attention to this either.

In every city I have ever lived in, shopping with a backpack is not unusual. Most people are walking or cycling to the store, and buying a relatively small amount of items.

Shopping with a backpack as in putting stuff in them before you leave? Or merely having them on while you shop? I've done the latter but not the former.

Compared to lugging around several bags a backpack is almost a necessity living in a city, I do it all the time.

The security guards don't bat an eyelid, the only time I was stopped funnily enough was because a security sticker tag that is found on meat packaging was stuck to my backpack. Causing confusion for both me and the security guard finding nothing in my empty backpack.

> what’s the alternative here?

The alternative is to reuse the cotton bag that you already have for other purposes.

Anecdotally, I use a backpack that I acquired in grade school 20 years ago. I use the same backpack as a day bag for many other types of trips. The zippers fell off track at one point and I had it repaired. It can also carry 20lbs or 40L of food (and on the shoulders instead of the hand) pretty easily.

But also, bags made from hemp instead of cotton. Especially if the leaves are used for other purposes and you're using the stalks.

The negative externalities of plastic bags to the environment after use are currently not priced by bag manufacturers into the product.

I’d imagine cotton or hemp bags have a very low environmental impact once they’ve become landfill or worst case ended up in a waterway vs plastic.

It’s obviously very complex pricing negative externalities which is why it’s almost never done but something to consider even if cotton bags have a much higher up front cost to produce vs plastic.

Since New Zealand started cracking down on single use plastic bags - your habits change massively. Go to the beer store and pick up a couple of cans of craft brew? 1 year ago I would get them in a bag. Now? Just hold onto them you lazy bugger between the counter, the car, and when you get home. Various forms of other bags constantly reused.

You seem to leave out the results of the second study, and slightly misrepresent the numbers you state.

The second study focusses on global warming potential (kg CO2 eq.). It states that Cotton bags break even with the most efficient solution "HDPE with 100% reused as bin litters" at 327 times, and "HDPE reused 3 times" at 393.

The explanation of the 7.100+20.000 numbers of the first study is incomplete. They refer to ALL impact categories. Not just energy and water requirements. If we focus on the climate change impact (kg CO2), cotton breaks even at 52/149 reuses.

Obvioulsly you'd have to consider the total impact at some point. Here, their methology is important. They say that: "Cotton bags are assumed to be manufactured in Europe, but the cotton used for the manufacturing is assumed to be retrieved from the market. The dataset used for cotton pro-duction (Ecoinvent, version 3.4, consequential) is based on a global average based on inputs from China, India, Latin America, and Turkey." (page 39).

The cotton production should be the greatest reason for the bad environmental impact considering all impact categories. Shouldn't it? The countries listed aren't really known for their environmental friendly policies. The menufactoring process itself is just some rather simple sewing.

Both studies also seem to NOT consider the environmental impact of plastic bags being thrown away. Which should be important as their aren't biodegradable.

I think the overall impact of non-plastic bags leaves room for discussion/further research. Based on the global warming potentiall, cotton bags seem like a good alternative. Reuse rates of 50-400 are realistic.

There are also different materials like jute or hemp where the production should be more environmentally friendly compared to cotton with similar perks (high reuse rate, biodegradable). Hanf can even be grown in Europe/NA such that there is less CO2 impact due to transport.

- Paper bags

- Reusable plastic bags

Cotton bags might require more energy but they're essentially biodegradable and don't pose such a threat to wildlife

I've gotten second-hand information about the first study, and the guy who wrote it says he's being misinterpreted. His study only looks at a very narrow invironmental impact, namely the production costs and impacts. It is not a full cradle-to-grave study, it does not cover environmental impact from improper disposal, nor a host of other factors.

The most important missing factor is the fact that cotton bags can be repaired and repurposed. I have a handful of heavyweight cotton bags (the oldest my grandpa bought sometime before I was born), only one of which I've purchased myself. They're all holding up very well, some of them with decades of use, and if they ever start to fray in the stitching or wear out, I can patch them very easily. Alternative, worn-out bags can be used as patches for other items or cut into cleaning cloths and similar things.

We need to move away from our single-use-then-throw-away lifestyles and relearn how to repair and reuse our stuff.

As a bonus, cotton bags biodegrade nicely, if they do happen to be discarded by mistake.

As for other cotton, I don't just throw out t-shirts because they get a few holes in them. They get repaired or delegated to DIY work or concert duty (shirt with holes are very punk/metal), or if they're too far gone they get turned into DIY band patches or used as cleaning cloths. It's all about getting the most use out of what you buy.

> Studies have shown multiple times [1], [2] that cotton bags require far more energy and water to produce than almost everything else and need to be reused circa 7.100 times for non organic and twenty-thousand times for organic cotton until they surpass plastic bags.

This "7000 times" number is based on a misrepresentation of a danish study. See here:


tl;dr 7000 times worse is for one category (ozone depletion) of the overall impact.

Thanks, that clears up a lot. According to that tweet thread, the number for climate impact is 52x. That's just one year of weekly use, which is a pretty realistic number.

> ...but what’s the alternative here?

It’s really just a lack of imagination. Simply use any of a wide variety of containers which most people already have. Just quickly thinking of containers I have within my house: a bunch of different sized duffle bags, a couple swag bags both stuffed full of other swag bags from conferences, multiple backpacks, various suitcases with handles and wheels, cardboard boxes (which millions of businesses crunch up and throw away), random plastic storage boxes of a dozen different sizes. I’m sure we’re i to walk through my house and garage I’d find a ton more random containers.

Now that I’m thinking about it, I’m wondering why suitcases aren’t used far more often? While I know some of us probably travel more than the average person, but I wonder what percentage of owned suitcases get taken out of their house more than once year.

Anyway, if there is one thing we’re not typically short in, it’s containers to hold stuff. We just need to normalize the idea that they can be used for more than one purpose.

The alternative is bags that dont end up as litter, either because they cost more and there are less of them, or because they break down

> "and need to be reused circa 7.100 times for non organic"

No. The conclusion in that study is flawed. They compared across a range of different dimensions, and then took the worst dimension they could find and used that scale only. That's bullshit. Miljøstyrelsen took some flak over it.

Not all energy is created equal. Plants (cotton, trees for paper) don't really compete with other energy sources. You just grow them, they "consume" sunlight and CO2, and give us products. Water use could be an issue, but there's plenty of areas of the world that have enough water (yeah if you grow cotton in Saudi Arabia that might be... not the most efficient). (In the future, this might change, but I'm not sure cutting down the forests and paving the planet with solar planets is desirable, even if they're more energy efficient.)

Unless of course they're saying that production of bags (from raw material) takes more energy than the whole oil extraction infrastructure... which I find hard to believe.

> You just grow them

Is it really that simple?

The best alternative is to not even use a bag. 13 days out of 14, I don’t even need a bag or any other container, but that’s in part due to some lifestyle choices that put me in walking distance of a good grocery.

The next best alternative is to already have bags you can use, a backpack that you carry other stuff in for example with some extra room.

Beyond that, dedicated cloth bags work, or you can buy paper bags as you need them, and reuse them until they’re too worn; or use them as trash bags. Yes, they’ll require more resources to manufacture, but they won’t adversely impact the surrounding environment nearly as much as they degrade, and that has to be balanced against resource usage. If it helps, you can purchase a bag that already exists from a thrift shop or some other secondhand store so long as it seems sturdy enough and easy to clean. It’s been broken in already, seen actual use, and isn’t going to encourage the manufacture of a new bag to take its place once bought, or give more money to the original manufacturer.

A cloth bag can also be repaired, seams can be sewn up, and any holes that appear can be patched up. A badly beaten up bag can be saved as a resource to repair the other bags with, as can any other tattered clothes you might have.

Also consider baskets, as in old fashioned woven baskets. It only recently occurred to me so I haven’t thought this one through, but this entire conversation is built around the dichotomy of reusable versus single use bags. Baskets as a means of transporting groceries doesn’t seem to be on anyone’s radar or in any of these discussions. Supermarkets sometimes have leftover shipping boxes that you can pack your groceries in as well, but depends on the market. If you order a lot online, you might even have a number of boxes of your own you can save for your next grocery run.

The point of these bag fees, at the end of the day, isn’t to force people to pay a fee, or to specifically buy reusable bags. The point is force people to be conscientious about their bag usage and to consider a change of habits, and some other alternatives to just accepting the otherwise complementary bags that you don’t have to even think about taking.

>>I don’t even need a bag or any other container, but that’s in part due to some lifestyle choices that put me in walking distance of a good grocery.

So you shop for groceries daily? I can not image doing that

I stayed with a friend who lived in London and walked to work through a commercial area; buying something like a jar of jam just meant stepping into a store she was walking past anyway. As easy as someone picking up a coffee or a sandwich every day for lunch.

Of course, shopping in convenience stores is expensive - but everything is in London.

>> As easy as someone picking up a coffee or a sandwich every day for lunch.

I do not do either of those things either. I get Drinks at work, and bring my lunch (if I eat Lunch)

Meat and fish, greens, and some vegetables plus whatever odds and ends I ran out of since my last larger grocery run.

Generally this means I’m never out of anything, my food is as fresh as the grocery store’s and/or the farmers’ markets, and I buy only what I need and will use in a dish within 48-72 hours.

Certain things, spices, a few different “safe” cheeses, and anything that I buy in a can or a jar tend to get picked up in one large shopping trip every two or three weeks, but also restocked in my daily grocery run on an as needed basis.

With Lidl and Aldi I'm happy to shop nearly every day because their stores are small so I don't waste all that much time in them.

I haven’t even thought about those wooden woven baskets!

But I suspect you‘d need two of them to equal the storage of a single standard plastic bag. And more than two baskets should be hard to carry.

Baskets come in different shapes and sizes, but if you aren’t picking up a lot, just enough to be a bit more than is easy to carry in your hands, or your mode of transportation precludes carrying your groceries in your hands, it could work, and double as your in-store shopping basket.

We stopped using waste bags a while ago for all residues except food waste (for which the council required potato starch bags). We have containers at home where we place the plastic waste, which we rinse if it's too dirty, and clean the container with a hose if it's smelly after dumping it in the council bin we have in the driveway.

It usually requires a bit of thought to stop using 90% of single-use plastic, but my family has found it possible.

The question is whether the reduced plastic pollution will make it worth it to slightly increase CO2 output on grocery bags. Given that the absolute cost in CO2 equivalent for a cotton bag is only 3.9kg according to the study you linked, I'd argue that it is negligible compared to the costs of plastic pollution. Ultimately, this seems like a tiny contribution to climate change, but a huge improvement in terms of pollution.

If you live in a city and are doing your shopping close to your house, you can[] just carry stuff with your hands? Or throw it into the backpack you're already using to carry other stuff if you shop coming home from school/work.

[] there are definitely people where this is less feasible. I think the bulk of the waste is from people where it _is_ feasible.

In the UK, single-use bags have pretty much been replaced with strong re-usable bags at the checkout. They tend to cost 10p each.

This is both the challenge for and simplification possible by proper carbon taxes. If you apply the carbon tax either at the well, or the point of fuel consumption, and do so internationally to avoid it being arbitraged away, then we can stop doing all these complicated calculations and look at the end price of the thing.

When I shop, I carry a backpack and/or a medium sized bag. Some of these bags are 5-10 years old and still going strong. I have them sitting in cupboard whether or not I'm using them, the environmental cost of producing has already transpired.

In this world, we can definitely be a lot more efficient in how we use our resources.

Many things are delivered to the supermarkets in cardboard boxes.

Many supermarkets leave those boxes in a box or cage near the tills.

I haven't seen that being done in the UK for over 10 years. Wonder why they stopped doing it?

My local Aldi normally has a box of boxes in most aisles. My local Tesco has it (unhelpfully, considering how many tills there are) near the exit.

I suspect that part of it is that many of the boxes are now trays designed for shelf display. The shelf-stacker just unwraps it and puts it on the shelf. This also makes the boxes slightly less useful for putting your shopping in, as the original contents were held in place by plastic wrap.

They do and people are able to ask for them to use as boxes for moving house.

I'm sure energy and agricultural water are easier to manage environmentally than plastic pollution.

Exactly! In many situations, plastic actually is the most environmentally friendly option. If by banning plastic bags the use of paper bags rises, that‘d be counterproductive. But sure, the best thing would be to simply carry groceries in a backpack you already own.

I’ve noticed in SF that places are giving me slightly thicker, “reusable” plastic bags in lieu of traditional plastic bags. I don’t know anything about plastics - would those still be LDPE? Because that sounds like the perfect medium

Using a cloth back seven times is trivial! I've been using mine for seven years. I expect it will last the rest of my life and if my children aren't ungrateful shits this bag will be their inheritance.

7.100 times would be written "7,100 times" in the US. Using a cloth bag 7000 times at one grocery store visit per week is 134 years of bag reuse.

Okay I see. (7,000 would actually take about 40 years for me, but I live next to the grocery store and rarely buy fresh food more than a day or two before eating it.) How does the energy needed to produce a grocery bag that will last a lifetime compare to a pair of blue jeans that will be worn out and out of style in five years?

Avoiding plastic bags seems like premature optimization.

> I‘m as much against (single use) plastics as the next guy but what’s the alternative here?

Strong, reusable plastic bags? I'm using those for years and they're as good as the cotton ones.

I've been using my bag for >12 years. The brand is "Freitag" (which should date it for those in the know), and it's made from up-cycled truck tarpaulins.

so what actually happens in britain is you buy a plastic bag and reuse it to avoid the 5p/10p cost. It's quite smart imo. Same thing is happening with reusable coffee cups which i think is brilliant

So yeah paper/cotton bags being used in mass are a not a huge thing here. Plus people reuse them easily hundreds of times.

"For a cotton tote to have less environmental impact than a plastic bag, it has to be reused 7,100 times. So why do tote bags have such good PR?"


That's a gross misunderstanding of what the study actually shows: https://twitter.com/arthurhcyip/status/1115749675762581504

Turns out, because the 7100x number is based on a misunderstanding of the study it's from, and the actual number for climate impact is 52x: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=20581751

I was wondering about that, so thank you for the clarification.

The other issue I had with it was that plastic bags are notorious for ending up in hedgerows and waterways, so there is that secondary impact from being a disposable item, which cotton or hemp bags don't have so much.

I wonder how hemp bags would compare.

Personally, hemp doesn't wear as well as cotton. Cotton just keeps on going, hemp wears out fairy fast.

Even better than hemp, raffia: https://m.alibaba.com/product/60477650237/Waterproof-PP-Wove...

If my very poor grandparents could afford them 40 years ago in Communist Romania, they must be cheap. I can vouch for them being practical, well woven ones last decades.

I think these are similar to the 'heavy duty' 'bag for life' type bags solid in my local Waitrose.

The item you shared is apparently polypropelene. And Google turns up exotic handbags.

Yeah, you're right, I was mistaken. I believe it was polypropylene. Still better for the environment than normal plastic, I'd say.

> disintegrate or some seams come apart

Don’t throw them away when this happens. Sew them back together.

Multiple-use plastics. You can use a plastic bag way more than a few times.

The fact that they don't last forever is an advantage.

no point in using bags that last many generations for shopping, cotton is better

Paper bags?

The large cloth bags you buy from the grocery store in Ontario are just the best things ever. They're a dollar each but they last years and years, hold far greater volume and weight, and are useful for all kinds of other tasks. I bought ten to help me transport bric a brac when I moved.

It's one of those things where environmentalism doesn't even have to factor in once you realise how awful the previous technology was.

They did a comparison to cloth bags here. you have to use a colored clothbag about 30.000 times before you break even with a plastic bag. a non colored cloth bag was about 23.000 uses. Plastic bags are super efficient with regards to resource consumption, but you must never leave them in nature. There is also very little to gain from recycling plastic bags, so you would ideally burn them somewhere close to usage, and use the heat for heating.

> They did a comparison to cloth bags here. you have to use a colored clothbag about 30.000 times before you break even with a plastic bag.

That study (https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-...) compared the resource consumption of:

1. A plastic bag then reused as a trash bag before discarded.

2. A reused cotton bag where you then also buy separate plastic bags for the trash can.

Sounds fair, as I am required to bag my garbage.

As someone else pointed out, the problem with plastic bags wasn’t resource usage but littering. This study is irrelevant.

If IIRC && this refers to the same research I heard about earlier the it compares the main driver for resource usage for a cotton bag is watering.

According to that research the best option was a sturdier, reusable plastic bag.

That said, I think we should be happy for people that use and reuse cotton bags. This is people that want to do the right thing.

Those numbers over 20k are only for organic cotton though. Standard uncolored cotton as is most common has to be reused 7.100 times.

And the best end of life for plastic bags is not recycling but repurposing them to trash bags.

You are of course correct, I couldn't find the source anymore and I remembered incorrectly.

Source? I find it hard to believe it, I commonly rip plastic bags by having any random thing with not-so-sharp edges (in the tenths of use, nevermind thousands)

I think you've misunderstood. The point isn't comparing to reusability of plastic and cloth. Cloth obviously wins. But if you compare cost per use, plastic is so cheap relative to cloth that its a better to use plastic (assuming proper disposal.)

It's one of those things that takes political will to achieve however in the first place because they can appear unpopular before they even are tried, and there in lies the rub. We just don't have time to ease into it this time, especially for climate change.

As far as I remember Cloths actually use way more CO2 in production than plastic.


While reducing our carbon footprint is certainly the most urgent problem we are facing, the footprint of creating a cloth bag isn't very large. This is a case where one has to ballance very different impacts onto the environment of two options. If we had a way to ensure that no plastic bag reaches the ocean and all of them get properly disposed of, this would be different. It also is a good idea, if those cloth bags get created somewhere close instead of being shipped around the globe.

Creating somewhere close doesn't mean that all the ingredients will be created locally too. And then you suddently have a situation where ingredients needs to be shipped around the world.

It might as well be that creating everything one place and shipping it globally is actually better.

Also weight of cloth bags are higher and it's not certain that they will be used as many times as you might think before you buy a new one, loose it, forget it etc.

In other words, it's not a good as you might think and it's certainly much more complex than just buying a tote bag vs. plastic.

Much of this looks more like a fools errand to me. We are much better of using what we want to use.

Cleaning our oceans from plastic is certainly a priority but the number one way to prevent that from happening is to make countries richer so they start caring and are able to deal with their plastic waste.

I would assume that most countries would have the ability to create cloth bags locally. Which raises the question: where does the clothing people wear come from and what is its environment impact? Also: where do all the plastic bags get created?

Personally, I would think that plastic makes for a great low-resource material, as long as we make sure it is recycled or burnt. But the plastic in the sea has become a far too serious problem. And yes, the biggest sources of plastic in the sea are places where plastics doesn't get caught in a proper disposal system. Helping there would also be a priority.

Yet, as with many other things, the rather rich countries - we tend to call ourselves "developed" - have a burdon to lead ahead with the reduction of the plastic waste. Either by developing alternatives or plastics, which decompose quickly enough to be no problem when escaping into nature.

Good !

Now we need to figure out how to stop packaging everything in dozens of layers of plastic !

I was amazed when I ordered deodorant from a company that tries to avoid plastic waste and I received it in an envelope made of several layers of paper (whereas most companies would have just used bubble wrap)

Japan is egregiously bad at this e.g. you buy a box of sweets / tea cakes / whatever, the box is shrink-wrapped, then the box contents is shrink wrapped (within the box), then the pieces are individually wrapped.

There's a bit of a cultural logic (if you're sharing cakes you may want to know your colleagues / friends didn't put their paws on your piece) but it's maddening: https://madaboutmacarons.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/Dori....

They'll even individually shrink-wrap containers (bottom right of picture, they're shakers of gold leaf) (https://madaboutmacarons.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/fuku...)

I guess this is very important and also often overlooked whenever public policy makers talk about Plastic Ban. Where I live (India), It's only the Plastic Carry Bags are always targeted but what's forgotten is that almost everything that we buy - from Biscuit Packages to Shampoo Bottles - everything is just Plastic at different levels.

I believe that the ban on bags isn't about plastic but rather bags themselves. They are easily carried away by wind, get stuck on trees, suffocate animals, etc.

I’d love to know the name of that company. I’m buying 5 litre refills where possible but even when buying supposedly eco friendly products they’ve come wrapped in layer upon layer of plastic.

I was a bit skittish about writing the name since my point was not to make an ad for them.

It is humankind.

I have just started using their product, so I have no opinion on it except for its packaging.

The bigger cause for the more recent (accelerated) drop is IMO not the 5p fee, but the fact that many shops simply stopped offering the thin "single-use" plastic bags altogether!

Still my praise goes to Whole Foods, the only shop (that I know) that offers paper bags.

I agree, but even then we're talking about a 50% drop in usage from last year, which is impressive and surprising that so many bags are being used despite the charge.

> Still my praise goes to Whole Foods, the only shop (that I know) that offers paper bags.

It is far from clear that paper bags are any better in their overall impact.

One thing that is very obvious is that they biodegrade. Even if they're equally bad for the environment in the short term they're not a problem that will take 1000 years to go away.

Biodegrading is a bad thing. It releases carbon back into atmosphere. Basically it's the opposite of carbon sequestration. Converting carbon into stable, non-degrading plastic instead of making it burn/degrade is actually good for the environment.

Paper bags are roughly 250 times worse than a plastic bag. Even worse if you color it.

I'd ask you to cite something that demonstrates evidence for that claim but you'll just post a link to a website funded by the plastics industry.

For example - "Paper bags have a much higher global warming potential (GWP)." (http://www.allaboutbags.ca/papervplastic.html) but when you scroll to the bottom of the page you see "Content compiled by the Canadian Plastics Industry Association.".

Paper bags are not 250 times worse.

In their impact on plastic waste?

Well, they degrade in sea water better than plastic so they're better for sea life. So the null hypothesis that plastic bags and paper bags are the same for sea life is easy to reject because the evidence is easy to collect.

For them to then be not any better in overall impact, it must mean you have some evidence that rejects the null hypothesis that plastic bags and paper bags are at least identical for all other purposes. So let's see it.

I know it's a surprising result, but this is a well studied topic, so there actually is a lot of evidence out there, and the scientific consensus seems to indicate that paper bags have a much higher impact than you might expect. You should plan to reuse a paper bag three to four times as often as a plastic bag to even out the impact.

Total impact analysis can often be really counterintuitive.




PDF https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&rct=j&url=https:/...

EDIT: Was trying to answer the question asked in as polite a way as possible, with links demonstrating the scientific consensus. Sorry if I offended someone?

These are all GHG results not an "overall for the environment" result. GHGs are only one part of the equation. I buy TerraPass, for instance, so the GHG part is going to be offset one way or the other. But if I were to buy plastic I'd be negative carbon but still killing sea creatures.

They aren't pure ghg studies, they talk about water consumption and landfilling.

Your response seems to imply you throw your bags in the ocean. If you don't do that, the analysis comes out differently.

Hmm, fair enough. In either case, though, I suppose it's fair to conclude that the original statement I was responding to is correct about overall costs (i.e. it is not, in fact, clear)

FWIW though, I think it might still be the right decision to go paper over plastic because of the accidental risk. I can't really control all downstream uses of my plastic bag once it's in the bin.

My local Morrisons have started offering paper bags that are strong enough to be reusable. Best of both worlds!

Every time I used those I get paper cuts. Good on them for moving to them; I'm sure they'll improve the tech rapidly.

Boots have started doing paper bags now - I got one last week when I went there.

Co-op have started using compostable bags.

I've seen several studies about the supposed "compostability" of these bags. They appear to be vastly overstated.

Paper bags are incredibly inefficient, and requires large swaths of forest.

Plastic bags are incredibly resource efficient, but you must keep it from ever getting into nature.

I agree but large swaths of forest are a good thing. In most cases trees are a crop. If we want more of them, then the farmer needs to be able to sell them to someone. By increasing the usage of tree products, we increase the number of trees in existence at any point in time (because the farmer converts some land from a different crop to trees to meet market demand).

Also, efficiency isn't everything. If you make something more efficient, then often the saving is passed on to the customer. The customer then spends the money they saved on something else that will have some environmental impact. Or worse, the classic example is plane flight. The industry got a lot more efficient. As a result people can afford to fly a lot more. The environmental impact went up hugely. (Thinking about this now, the efficiency of plastic bags is what made people use so many of them).

By my logic we can reduce the environmental impact of flying by enforcing a maximum efficiency on jet engines. One much lower than the current efficiency. Hmmm. Probably a carbon tax would be a better idea.

Almost all the plastic bags sold from major supermarket chains in the UK were bio-degradable. After a few years they literally turned into dust.

I actually had one of these single use bags long enough in a closet for it to degrade to the point where it was basically dried paper mulch.

You need to check very carefully before you can conclude they were bio-degradable. I have only seen degradable plastic carry bags in the UK which were not in fact bio-degradable. Traditional plastic bags manufactured to be falling into pieces don't mean that their pieces are good for the environment (rather the inverse). Real bio-degradable bags do exist but they are weaker and feel rubbery, and they are probably more expensive to make and people likely don't appreciate them, so you generally don't see them (the bags distributed by some London councils for collecting compost are of the real kind). See this older comment of mine:


Sure but they literally grow on trees (and from renewable energy as well) and become trees as well. Plastic is only efficient if you discount the cost of recycling (which is pretty much impossible AFAIK so you could say the cost is infinite).

Are paper bags not more widespread in the US???

In the 90s at least, on TV and film, if anyone brought home groceries, it was in paper handle-less bags.

Overall, has there been a noticeable change at the landfill level? Also have there been reductions in plastic bags making their way to waterways, streams, seas, etc?

I ask this because the inevitable comments arise regarding people now having to buy rubbish/bin bags instead of reusing shopping bags. So, what is the net effect of this change on the environment?

Plastic bags used to be the tumble weed of urban environments; in winter you could see every tree had one blown into it. These have entirely vanished, and I would count that as the main success.

The stream near my house still collects plastic bottles, which probably has to be the next challenge.

I have never seen a straw as litter, in a stream or on a beach.

I am in favour of banning all single use plastic (and quite a lot of non single use as well).

But I now do have to buy some bin bags... What do people do to avoid this?

I actually used to reuse single use bags to line all of the trash cans in my house. Now that my town banned free ones, my family has been trained to reuse. Only now I'm buying disposable trash bags and only using them once.

Fairly sure the overall impact here is worse. Especially since the heavy trash bags you buy consume much, much more plastic compared to the thin film freebies I was using before.

I do hate to see trash bags blowing in the road and know they end up in the rivers and oceans. I guess overall this is still a win, just not for my household.

I guess trash bags can/could be produced with biodegradation in mind, while shopping bags may prioritize being able to stay in stock for years and to hold dyes, etc. It's not necessarily a 1:1 replacement.

> Especially since the heavy trash bags you buy consume much, much more plastic compared to the thin film freebies I was using before.

Seems to be cultural/regional: the bin liners I buy are of the flimsy type, precision engineered to just barely survive the one-way trip from the room bin to the large outdoors bin, whereas the free bags I used to get at the store were almost universally heavily overdesigned as brand-carriers, can't take any chances with a bag that has your logo all over it.

I don't agree with blanket bans. We should also consider patterns of usage and actual environmental impact. Trash bags are efficient in production, very convenient and allow to better organize other garbage , and most often end up in the landfill, as it's their main usage. It almost never will end up in the ocean or in the forest/on the streets/on the tree branches by the wind etc. Plastic bottles, plastic fishing net, etc that's where main source of problems is.

I always carry an eastpak backpack when I bike to work. Those things are pretty much indestructible; on my second one since highschool. Then I usually shop on my way back from work. Obviously I probably have to shop more often than most people because of the limited capacity. I usually keep a spare plastic bag(that i re-use) in there as well if I need to buy more than can fit in the eastpak.

I'd guess that bin bags are more likely to make it to landfill (full of other things that need to go to landfill) than to end up in rivers, etc. Since we are still throwing things in landfills for the foreseeable future and bin bag usage is a) directly proportional to the amount we dispose of and b) relatively minor, it doesn't seem like a great loss.

Also the old shopping bags were extremely thin. The new ones in countries that implemented the tax are much thicker. So what exactly is the net plastic here? What about including plastic tote bags? I know they are reusable, but how many times do you need to use a very struby plastic bag until you reach net plastic?

LDPE (thicker, 'bag for life' etc) is about 4 times as bad, paper bags 3 times, vs HDPE (thin) bags assuming no reuse. The below UK gov study investigates impact of each (and other alternatives like cloth bags) and also considers reuse as bin liners, which significantly changes the numbers.


The thinner ones like to fly away, get carried long distances by wind or water, and will shred and tangle around things spontaneously. They are much more of a danger to wildlife than the thick ones for this reason alone. Shifting the bag away from "disposable" and "single-use" category makes a difference on its own in terms of how much of it ends up in the environment.

not sure but we no longer have a bag of bags filled to the brim, like we used to :)

Us too. I sincerely hope that it does actually translate to less plastic bags hitting the environment!

It is heartening to see the results. I have this one year old article [0] and an info-graphic which shows what other countries are doing [1]. As usual, the trouble seems to be in implementation. Speaking from experience here in Bangalore, plastic bags have decreased in availability but not disappeared :-(

One highlight: Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2001(!) and usage dropped 90%.

[0] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-natio...

[1] https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/img/64410700/Master.jpg

While Ireland has certainly lead the way in the plastic bag tax we’re still doing poorly when it comes to waste management. There’s still a culture that accepts fly tipping in picturesque areas of the countryside, litter is still a problem and public bins always seem to be full to bursting point and never emptied.

> accepts fly tipping... I had to Google the term :-) . For the rest of the people reading this: Fly tipping = illegally dump waste.

Your link 1 makes reference to Ireland introducing a tax of 37 cents. As far as I'm aware it was 15 Euro cents, and it doesn't seem to match up with either USD or Indian Rupee amounts, so what currency would you expect that to be, or is it just wrong?

The Irish bag tax has been increased from €0.15 to €0.44 over the years.

"Ireland: The country introduced a plastic bag tax of 37 cents on purchase in 2001"

So its talking about when it was introduced.

Similar to the current charge in Denmark which is around 3.75 DKK(€0.5) per large plastic bag

I live in England. My local supermarket no longer has the flimsy plastic bags at all, only the sturdy plastic "bag-for-life" (they'll replace it for free) kind.

The flimsy bags were all re-used as kitchen bin liners. The sturdy bags can't be used for that.

So I'm now having to buy single use plastic bin liners.

You might have been doing that, as was I, but a lot of people were not - and their flimsy bags were ending up as litter. This is what this policy is designed to prevent.

>a lot of people were not

So what were they doing? Not lining their garbage bins? I find that unlikely. They were most likely buying plastic liners (ie. bags). In that case, the smart thing to do is to get them to switch to reusing their plastic bags, not making it harder for people who already reuse plastic bags to get bags.

>and their flimsy bags were ending up as litter

I'm not convinced that any meaningful amount of plastic bags end up as litter. They're used to transport something, typically to someone's home, where there's easy access to a garbage bin.

They were already buying bin liners to use at home. When bags were seen as disposable they were often put in public litter bins (where they do not always stay, in busy areas with full bins) or simply discarded in the open environment. Anecdotally there seems to be much less of this going on now and the relatively common sight of Tesco carrier bags (other supermarkets are also available, but these seemed to be the worst offender) blowing down the street or caught in trees seems to have largely disappeared from what I have seen since this policy was introduced. There is still litter of course, but the most noticeable litter is now food wrappers rather than plastic bags.

Other comments have addressed the questionable environmental benefits of plastic bags over multi-use bags. However in terms of ocean pollution this is totally missing the mark. This is an unpleasant thing to discuss, but perhaps times are pressing.

Developed countries, including the UK, have modern waste management meaning that close to 0% of its waste plastic ends up in the oceans. The only contributing factor is beach litter. Plastic in the oceans comes from poorer countries in SE asia where the waste management systems are inadequate and open air dumpster sites are the norm. [0] In fact, "90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers" [1]

Our efforts should be directed there, financially and politically. It's not an easy problem since being harsh on poor counties and meddling in their internal affairs doesn't look good, but imo we have no choice.

An important contributing factor is that the West sends some of its plastic to be recycled by some of these countries which in turn simply dump some of it instead and it finds its way to the oceans. We can no longer turn a blind eye to that. As part of the effort, we must ensure that either these counties actually do the recycling (perhaps with our aid), or we don't continue to buy their recycling services.

[0] https://ourworldindata.org/plastic-pollution [1] https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2018/06/90-of-plastic-polluti...

Our plastic bags may not have ended up in the ocean. But they were turning up in canals, trees, parks, etc.

Who's working on a bunch of low climate impact stores? I'd love to buy things indexed for climate impact and waste, but I don't think I've ever seen any options like that.

Side effects like 'no bubble pack' and most things being made down the road would be amazing advantages I would think.

As I‘ve just mentioned in another comment, we have a special store that sells groceries without packaging, bring your own container and fill it.

Also some supermarkets in Germany work on removing packaging from fruits and vegetables where it’s not needed, which is nice to see.

Coconuts, water melons, ginger and such get brandings with a laser.

German supermarket giant EDEKA seems to be the leader so far, they have pilot projects where customers can bring reusable containers for products. [1]

[1] - https://technology.risiinfo.com/packaging-technology-137

The Coop supermarket is replacing single use plastic bags with compostable ones. This seems the best plan to me.

source: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-45612315

This headline is misleading because it refers to single use plastic bags. In London none of the shops I go to even sell these bags. However, they do sell multiuse bags which I mostly use similar to how I would use a single use bag.


The butcher's shop down the street here allows to bring own boxes to avoid wrappings and the bakery puts bread and rolls into cloth bags if you provide them. (Too bad that I have no image of our fancy Baguette bag)

There are even normal supermarkets (not discounters) in Germany now that offer to sell fresh meat and cheese products into customer provided boxes to avoid wrapping and garbage. It works by bringing your own clean and sealable containers and put them on a tray; the person at the counter only handles the tray and puts things directly into the boxes, and adds a label with the contents and price for the cashier.

Works well, imo.

Won't even remotely work in the U.S. where it just adds more liability to the stores. All it takes is for a customer to bring a contaminated container and go "The meat you sold me made me sick! I am suing you".

I believe that. Lawsuits, healthcare and guns are most likely the biggest reasons that make Europeans frown when hearing about the US ;)

Such a great news to read in the morning. It’s good to hear this is happening in the UK.

I personally use a couple of bigger foldable plastic boxes and some cotton bags for good measure.

The boxes can carry up to 25kg each, easily fit in a car, and I always have one of them, with some cotton bags, in the car. I had these boxes for 3 years or so. Haven’t used plastic bags in years!

For me also the change to "smart shop", i.e. you scan and bag your groceries as you walk around, had meant the end of plastic bags for me. I now have to think for a second how many bags I need beforehand, not just grab them on checkout.

These days I always have a few reusable bags in the boot of my car that I grab on my way into the shop. The big sturdy rectangular ones that fit snuggly in a trolley and then straight into the boot of the car. And a more insulated bag for cold items. On top of a foldable one in my work bag for small items on the way home if I commuted by train.

I hated the old flimsy but free bags they had in the UK, I did not trust them enough to reuse. They quickly ripped, could not contain anything runny/liquid, etc. I am glad they disappeared, both for environmental and personal reasons.

I was surprised by "Shops are expected [my emphasis] to donate the money to charitable causes - and the charge is estimated to have raised £169 million since 2015." so I went looking and it looks like the only thing keeping them from just pocketing the money is a £20,000 fine.[0][1]



Turkey recently went the same way (plastic bags are charged ₺0,25 — ~5¢; ₺0,15 — ~3¢ is tax). Plastic bag use dropped by 75%.

One of the product idea I had, but no skills or real desire to implement it was - a key chain which holds 1-3 cloth bags. Biggest behavioral change people have to do when moving to reusable bags is - remembering to carry. Most people carry their keys. You can use build a key chain which stores 1-3 bags for such times.

I'm sure more people are reusing bags than before, I am not the best at it, but have about a 50 percent success rate at remembering to bring one, or just don't use a bag.

I'd like to see paper bags available too. If I forget a cotton bag, rather than buy another bag, the option to purchase a paper bag feels more ecologically friendly? Am I right?

In one of the states in India, they banned plastic. But in a few months, the ban is in-effective. I really think to charge a small price for buying plastics is a better way than to ban

As a Danish government study citing a "7,100 times" greater environmental impact of cotton over single-use plastic bags is being cited or referenced (often indirectly) here, I thought I'd take a glance at its assumptions. They prove ... interesting.[1]

TL:DR; Cotton, particularly organic, is most heavily penalised for water consumption, though net carbon emissions consider. The study entirely ignores litter and acquatic impacts, and limits consideration to 100 year impacts on Denmark specifically. It is a fascinating case of very carefully delineated boundaries of consideration at odds with an inclusive long-term environmental assessment, and is absolutely not reflected in popular articles linked. You can paint a very good picture of a thing if you hide its worst features.

I'm commenting as I read through the report, conclusions emerge as I do so (most are in a reply to this comment).

"The effects of littering were considered negligible for Denmark and not considered."

That is, one of the biggest concerns of plastics. and the environment -- long-term residency if tossed, especially in waterways or the ocean, simply isn't addressed.

"The environmental assessment of each carrier bag was carried out taking into consideration different end-of-life options: incineration (EOL1), recycling (EOL2), and reuse as waste bin bag (EOL3) before being incinerated."

That is, landfill disposal or composting are not considered. Cotton bags can be composted, if slowly.

"The environmental assessment was carried out for a range of recommended environmental impacts (European Commission, 2010): climate change, ozone depletion, human toxicity cancer and non-cancer effects, photochemical ozone formation, ionizing radiation, particulate matter, terrestrial acidification, terrestrial eutrophication, marine eutrophication, freshwater eutrophication, ecosystem toxicity, resource depletion, fossil and abiotic, and depletion of water resource."

A long list, but again notably lacking long-term environmental residence and impacts of items bypassing disposal processing.

Looking at specific measures and bag types:

Organic cotton bags:

"Reuse for grocery shopping at least 149 times for climate change"

This is well below the 7,000 headline number, and corresponds to three years of weekly shopping trips, fewer if used multiple times weekly.

"at least 20,000 times considering all indicators; reuse as waste bin bag if possible, otherwise incinerate."

Interesting, though I'm dying to find out what the least favourable indicators are, and how those might possibly be mitigated.

Conventional cotton bags:

Interesting to see how the less "eco-friendly" option fares...

"Reuse for grocery shopping at least 52 times for climate change"

That's one year of weekly use, a few months if more frequent.

"at least 7100 times considering all indicators"

And that's our headline number. Where does it come from?

A footnote on the next page provides a clue:

The highest number is due to the use of water resource, but also to freshwater and terrestrial eutrophication.

I'm aware from previous research that cotton is famously water-hungry. A chief reason it's grown in river deltas (Nile, Mississippi).

Choice of methodology is of interest:

"The LCA carried out for this study was conducted according to the requirements outlined in the International Standards 14040 and 14044 (ISO, 2006a, 2006b). The present Section provides a detailed description of the LCA methodology utilized for the study: the goal of the LCA, functional unit and reference flow, the system boundaries, the choices for the modelling approach for addressing multi-functionality, the modelling tools, data requirements, impact assessment method, assumptions and limitations."

I'm not familiar with these or alternatives, but at the very least the methodology isn't fully home-grown. Though it may have been carefully selected.

"we defined a functional unit that allowed a fair basis for comparison for the grocery carrier bags"

That is, comparison is standardised to weight and volume capacity.

"Carrying ... an average volume of 22 litres and with an average weight of 12 kilograms.... After use, the carrier bag is collected by the Danish waste management system."

Knowing that several multi-use alternatives are capable of both greater volume and mass, by factors of 2-4, I'd be interested to see if this is addressed and how. I'll note that toting 50kg of groceries may not be for the faint (or weak) of heart, though there is assistive technology.[2]

From subsequent discussion, the reference unit is a minimum capacity, not a scaled reference. That is, some options (e.g., LDPE simple) are scaled up to meet this. capacity, others (Jute, cotton, composite) with greater capacity are not scaled down.[3]

"The time horizon of the impacts in this LCA was 100 years."

This raises all kinds of issues, from environmental residency (already excluded by presuming perfect wastestream recovery) to future value. discounting / present value analysis. Suffice to say there are a vast number of bodies buried, literally, in that innocuous sentence.

"Secondary reuse ... was assumed as substituting a waste bin bag."

So all y'all reuse-it-as-a-trash-bag peeps, you're covered. And yes, plastic beats organic here.

Impact categories are listed in table 5, p. 39. As previusly, omissions are highly notable.

The assumptions section,3.10, pp. 41ff, deserves close reading. Highlights only:

"we did not take into consideration customers' behavioural patterns"

That is, this is a highly idealised study. Useful as an engineering reference, perhaps, but not a full description of the real world. All models are false, yes. I've serious doubts this one is even useful, particularly as cited in practice.[4]

"For biopolymer and textile bags, recycling was not considered."

"Recycling of textiles was not taken into account since it mainly occurs outside the Danish waste management system."

I'll simply note that the environment does not care about this distiction.

On production impacts: "it was not possible to retrieve 'market' processes from Ecoinvert for all the carrier bags materials assessed"

That is: while cotton production is extremely well understood and ducumented, chemical synthesis is not. Ignorance is not innocence.

"For organic cotton, we modified the Ecoinvent dataset for conventional cotton production by subtracting environmental impacts connected to fertilizers and by lowering the production yield by 30%."

Any intrinsic high-volume inputs to cotton will have a far greater impact on organic production. Stay tuned.

"We could not find literature data on the production and manufacturing of the waste bin bag."

Though addressed, an interesting and notable comment re: waste-bagging substitution.

Tables 10-12 specifically list impact weights, and yes, water consumption is the most variable factor, from negative water consumption for LDPE (presumably H2O emissions from incineration) to 70 l/unit consumption for organic cotton. Net carbon emissions also penalise cotton.

"The environmental impacts connected to the production of the organic cotton bag (COTorg) were considerably higher than those of the conventional cotton bag (COT). This is due to the fact that organic cotton production does not involve the use of synthetic chemicals such as and pesticides, which lowers the yield of the cultivation."

That is: yield impacts are considered, but not environmental and soil impacts of fertiliser and pesticide use.

Carbon emissions don't seem to be clearly attributed. I'm not sure what to make of this.

Table 23 provides a colour-coded overview of impacts, though it omits the handy acronyms and abbreviations translator you'll need -- that's on p. 21.

Further discussion in follow-up reply.



1. Source: Ministry of Environment and Food for Denmark, "Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags" (2018) https://www2.mst.dk/udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-... (PDF). Mind the TLS cert errors.

2. The venerable wheeled folding shopping trolley, e.g., https://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/1/1/56758-super-deluxe-swiv...

3. "Life Cycle", Table 3. Required reference flow for each carrier bag

4. See, e.g., Will Dunn, "How Britain fell in love with the tote bag – and why it’s a dangerous fiction", cited elsewhere in this thread, by which I found the Danish report. https://www.newstatesman.com/politics/environment/2019/07/ho...

I'm splitting out my conclusions separately.

1. Study design and analysis criteria. are hugely important. Clearly the design here favours some choices and penalises others.

2. The study entirely omits consideration of litter and polution as well as platic's extraordinarily long residence in the environment, both terrestrial and aquatic. I cannot emphasize this enough, as the fact is at odds with much discussion generally and positioning of this study specifically. It also has a very short-term impacts assessment horizon relative to plastic's persistence.

3. Water use features disproportionately due to cotton's agricultural needs. All water consumption (or production) is considered of equal weight. Regadless of place of use, quality, or form (ag water input vs. combustion steam output). This strikes me as inherently quite flawed.

4. Several other analysis variables seem flawed, particularly net carbon emissions. I've not looked closely at these, and they may be valid. Given other issues with this study, I have my doubts. In. particular, there is a near-essential fossil carbon input to plastics not present. for natural fibres.

5. If there is one worthwhile message here, it's that lightweighting designs can provide impressive materials and processing flows benefits. Many plastics packaging products are thin, and use minuscule amounts of material. A lesson might be to simply. reduce the material in cotton bags. Though thread and ply width cannot be reduced much, design and the disproportionately greater thread strength suggests that rather than woven cloth, a mesh design would eliminate most material whilst preserving function.

6. Read studies carefully, including design, assumptions, impacts, and conclusions.

7. Bonus observation: Textiles are surprisingly resource intensive. The raising, synthesis, processing, manufacture, distribution, and disposal of cloth, fabrics, fibres, and films claims much land, water, energy, materials, capital, labour, and sinks. Improvements (and changes, including outsourcing) in these processes led the first industrial revolution, and continue to have huge impacts. The history of synthetic fibres, mostly of one company, Du Pont, is interesting in its own right. Be aware in your consumption of them.

>"The effects of littering were considered negligible for Denmark and not considered."

>That is, one of the biggest concerns of plastics. and the environment -- long-term residency if tossed, especially in waterways or the ocean, simply isn't addressed

Maybe the problem here is that the "biggest concern" is not necessarily a concern worth having. In other words, regardless of what currently animates environmentalists, the actual effects of plastic bag littering in Denmark are in fact negligible, as they say.

Where I am, the latest craze is to worry about plastic straws. To listen to people you would think the sea was thick with the things. I feel like the crowd latches onto silly things to care about, perhaps as a distraction from tackling the serious things. It's been amazing to see how fast the concern with plastic has metastasized in the culture.

Eliminating the concern from study scope is hardly the way to prove that point.

Too bad like 90% of plastic in the ocean from land based sources comes from the Yangtze, Indus, Yellow River, Hai River, Nile, Ganges, Pearl River, Amur, Niger, and the Mekong.

So this basically does nothing at all to address the issues we are after.

I see a lot this weird reaction, some action is taken so the number of single use plastic is reduced in your country and area so your local rivers and beaches are 90% more clean but people like you can't see this good local thing because somewhere else this measures were not appalled yet.

I assume you are the type that won't clean his house / room if is full of shit unless someone else also cleans it first.

I'm just not even sure if this is good at the end of the day.

If it takes less energy to create and use plastic and then properly store it in a landfill then that is what we should do.

I feel like we get confused about the source of plastic in the oceans and think that we can help clean it up by switching away from plastic, when the actual problem is improper disposal of plastic by the 3rd world.

So is it good that we are reducing single use plastic in our country where we dispose of plastic properly? Because instead we just use a different material that has a greater contribution to global warming than the plastic did.

Not sure in what country you are what I read on the internet most Western countries have issues with plastic bags floating int he air , bottles in rivers,side of the roads and forests where tourists hang out.

I agree that collecting all plastic garbage and putting it in a big land fill is a good solution but encouraging people not to abuse the cheap or free plastic bugs systems in malls and shops is also a good solution.

About poor countries I think you need to understand that there is no running water, public garbage collection and other western facilities there, accusing and not offering some real solution is just disingenuous,

> Not sure in what country you are what I read on the internet most Western countries have issues with plastic bags floating int he air , bottles in rivers,side of the roads and forests where tourists hang out.

That is really not what the US looks like. There is not plastic trash everywhere. There is practically a public trash can on every corner here.

All I am saying is I'm not sure the ideas in this article are a solution.

Maybe this policy would be helpful in the countries that are actually the source of the plastic that is destroying the oceans though.

In the UK, it used to be the norm to see a plastic bag tree, all aflutter with collected trash and generally foul. Since the free bag ban, those have disappeared.

You may be young and/or wealthy if you don't remember trash everywhere.

So from this article https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2019/apr/08/drinks-b...

I can see that UK has such a problem so this article about UK should not upset you, I am glad that US is cleaner (I am wondering if this is the same in poorer cities because your perspective could be biased by your location)

Your claim is incorrect. This widely quoted statistic was incorrectly reported in the news.

90% of plastic in the oceans _which comes from rivers_ is from those 10 rivers.




Better small improvement then no improvement at all

I'm just not even sure if this is good at the end of the day. If it takes less energy to create and use plastic and then properly store it in a landfill then that is what we should do.

I feel like we get confused about the source of plastic in the oceans and think that we can help clean it up by switching away from plastic, when the actual problem is improper disposal of plastic by the 3rd world.

So is it good that we are reducing single use plastic in our country where we dispose of plastic properly? Because instead we just use a different material that has a greater contribution to global warming than the plastic did.

Using more energy is not bad per se. Extracting fossil carbon and introducing it into the carbon cycle is the biggest issue we have right now.

It shows people can adapt. Hopefully other countries will see it can be done and adopt similar policies.

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