Studies have shown multiple times ,  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.
 - https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-...
 - https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/life-cycle-assess...
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.
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
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.
: 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.
Without those numbers, 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.
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.
> Studies have shown multiple times ,  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.
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.
: 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.
: 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.
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.
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.
That is a bit sad. We need more thoughtfulness-enhancing genes in the genetic pool.
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.
But impact of the air pollution is the warming!
> 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.
Buy a single cloth bag and keep it for life, atleast in my area, they survive a long time.
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.
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.
>> 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...
I had one that looked pretty much like this: https://m.indiamart.com/proddetail/tesco-shopping-bag-368709...
Is it canvas or cotton?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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 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."
The reason these laws get enacted is because not enough of the plastic bags end up in landfills.
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.
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.
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...
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.
> 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).
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.
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...
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
Alternatives which balance modest production costs, greater ruse, and biodegrade more quickly, can come out on top.
I hope we won't let most of our trash to persist in the environment for millenia.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
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.
- Reusable plastic bags
Cotton bags might require more energy but they're essentially biodegradable and don't pose such a threat to wildlife
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Is it really that simple?
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.
So you shop for groceries daily? I can not image doing that
Of course, shopping in convenience stores is expensive - but everything is in London.
I do not do either of those things either. I get Drinks at work, and bring my lunch (if I eat Lunch)
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.
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.
It usually requires a bit of thought to stop using 90% of single-use plastic, but my family has found it possible.
 there are definitely people where this is less feasible. I think the bulk of the waste is from people where it _is_ feasible.
In this world, we can definitely be a lot more efficient in how we use our resources.
Many supermarkets leave those boxes in a box or cage near the tills.
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.
Avoiding plastic bags seems like premature optimization.
Strong, reusable plastic bags? I'm using those for years and they're as good as the cotton ones.
So yeah paper/cotton bags being used in mass are a not a huge thing here. Plus people reuse them easily hundreds of times.
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.
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.
Don’t throw them away when this happens. Sew them back together.
It's one of those things where environmentalism doesn't even have to factor in once you realise how awful the previous technology was.
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.
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.
And the best end of life for plastic bags is not recycling but repurposing them to trash bags.
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.
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.
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)
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...)
It is humankind.
I have just started using their product, so I have no opinion on it except for its packaging.
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.
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.
https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-... page 93
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.
Total impact analysis can often be really counterintuitive.
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?
Your response seems to imply you throw your bags in the ocean. If you don't do that, the analysis comes out differently.
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.
Plastic bags are incredibly resource efficient, but you must keep it from ever getting into nature.
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).
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.
In the 90s at least, on TV and film, if anyone brought home groceries, it was in paper handle-less bags.
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?
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.
But I now do have to buy some bin bags... What do people do to avoid this?
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.
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.
One highlight: Ireland introduced a tax on plastic bags in 2001(!) and usage dropped 90%.
So its talking about when it was introduced.
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.
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.
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.
In fact, "90% of plastic polluting our oceans comes from just 10 rivers" 
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.
Side effects like 'no bubble pack' and most things being made down the road would be amazing advantages I would think.
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. 
 - https://technology.risiinfo.com/packaging-technology-137
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.
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!
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.
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
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.
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.
"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.
"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...
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.
>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.
So this basically does nothing at all to address the issues we are after.
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.
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.
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,
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.
You may be young and/or wealthy if you don't remember trash everywhere.
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)
90% of plastic in the oceans _which comes from rivers_ is from those 10 rivers.