Are tote bags bad for the environment? The reusable problem


Should You BYOB – Bring Your Own Bag? (Photo: Getty)

Metro.co.ukThe Just1Change campaign aims to enable readers to make small changes to help tackle the climate crisis.

Since the introduction of the 5 pence charge on single-use transport bags in 2015 – later increased to 10 pence – sales of plastic bags in major supermarkets have been slashed by 95%, according to the british government.

Many have instead chosen to carry their purchases in tote bags, which are marketed as an eco-friendly option.

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

So, are tote bags problematic? And what about other popular reusable items like coffee mugs?

Here’s all you need to know.

Are tote bags bad for the environment?


plastic and canvas bags
You will have to use a tote bag 20,000 times to compensate for the damage done during its manufacture (Photo: Getty)

Unfortunately, tote bags aren’t as environmentally friendly as you might think.

According to a Danish Ministry of Environment and Food 2018 study, an organic cotton tote should be used a huge 20,000 times to offset its environmental impact.

This is due to the large amounts of energy and water required for its production and its impact on the ozone layer.

This is the equivalent of using one tote bag per day for 54 years.

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

Even though cotton bags are sent for recycling, the logos and messages printed on the bags are not recyclable and must be cut from the fabric, wasting around 10 to 15 percent of the materials received, according to a report from the New York Times.

You should always take your tote bag to a recycling center or textile bank for recycling rather than putting it in a general trash, as it’s better to waste 15% than to waste 100%.


man use reusable coffee mug
Reusable coffee cups are not immune from scientific scrutiny (Photo: Getty)

Reusable coffee mugs have also come under intense scrutiny by environmental scientists.

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

Over a one-year period of one-cup-per-day use, reusable cups were associated with lower greenhouse gas emissions than their single-use counterparts and performed better in the category of. human health for things like toxic emissions, smog and ozone. exhaustion. They also tended to use less minerals and fossil fuels than disposable cups.

However, having to wash your reusable mug with soap and hot water puts it at a disadvantage when it comes to ecosystem quality indicators.

In addition, CIRAIG has discovered that it is only with frequent use that the potential impacts of the reusable cup can be reduced; According to the manufacturer of reusable cups, it could take more than 1,000 uses to compensate for the impacts of a single-use cup.

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So, should we stop using tote bags and other consumables?

No. Reusable bags and coffee mugs are by far the best option for the environment, as long as they are used for years.

Nina Schrank, Senior Plastics Campaigner at Greenpeace United Kingdom, says reusable products are the way to go, as long as they’re “reused over and over again.”

Schrank said Metro.co.uk: “Reuse is far superior to single use, but reusables like cotton tote bags are only effective when they are designed to last and reused over and over again for long periods of time.

“If people use them as a disposable product, they are used a few times and then thrown away, that defeats the point.

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


woman carries two tote bags
The key is to use your tote bag as much as you can (Photo: Getty)

Adam Herriott, Sector Specialist at Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) agrees, saying Metro.co.uk: “The most critical element in reducing the environmental impact is to ensure that the bags are not used once and thrown away.

“They need to be reused as many times as possible and then recycled. This minimizes the impact they have on the environment by reducing the need for raw materials and resources.

“A lifetime bag should be used for life, not tossed and thrown away after one or two uses. “

So instead of buying 20 tote bags because you think they’re cute, pick a few that you’ll use for everything.

The same goes for your coffee mug – making sure to wash it between uses.

Refuse companies’ free reusable items as this will send the message that they need to stop producing them by the checkout charge.


couple use reusable bag in store
“A lifetime bag should be used for life, not tossed and thrown away after one or two uses. (Photo: Getty)

Charlie Bradley Ross and Stephanie Steele, Director and Head of Content and Procurement for The Sustainable Fashion Collective and Offset warehouse respectively, warn that just buying a reusable item isn’t enough – you have to actually change your ways to make sure you actually use it.

They explained to Metro.co.uk: “Buying sustainably responds to the desire to buy and relieves guilt – and yet we all already have something reusable in our lives.

“When it comes to buying a reusable product as a replacement for single-use options, ask yourself if you will like to change the habit of using it.

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


Eco-Friendly Tote Bags: Here Are The Materials You Should Look For

An organic cotton tote bag must be used 20,000 times to compensate for environmental damage during production.

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

  • Textile scraps – if you need a new bag, it’s better to make one at home from spare materials or even an old t-shirt than to buy a new one. There are many easy to follow tutorials on YouTube.

  • Recycled materials – If you need to buy a new bag, it is recommended that you buy one made from recycled materials, such as old water bottles. Buying a recycled bag means you are reusing materials rather than producing more.
  • Jute – Jute is one of the most environmentally friendly materials on the market. Jute is a long, soft and shiny vegetable fiber that is spun into long, coarse yarns. Being all-natural, jute bags are biodegradable and therefore are a great bag choice.
  • Non-woven polypropylene – Non-woven polypropylene (PP) is a lightweight yet strong material made from a by-product of the oil manufacturing process. A UK Environment Agency Report 2011 found that PP bags only need to be used 11 times to compensate for the environmental impact of production.

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

MORE: 23 Things You Didn’t Know You Could Recycle

MORE: 15 Common Recycling Myths Debunked

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