Glut of free tote bags is an environmental scourge, reports NYT

No new bags !!
Photo-Illustration: by The Cut; Photos: Shutterstock

This morning, as I was just sitting in my apartment, quietly browsing the headlines and surrounded by With the cumulative 100 tote bags that various companies have given me over the years, I received a disturbing newsletter. It’s not really a sustainable way of life, New York Time reports. The existence of so many cotton bags – allegedly the ecological response to the scourge of single-use plastic bags – is creating big problems for our fragile climate situation. Sigh. Predictable.

the Time quote a 2018 to study from the Danish Food and Environment Ministry, which determined that a person would need to use a single organic cotton tote 20,000 times – or, that bag every day for 54 years – to balance their environmental cost. Cotton production involves a ridiculous amount of water (and sometimes also, like the Time notes, unethical work practices) long before we even broach the disposal problem: can you compost or recycle your old crispy tote? May be! But only if the brand that gave it to you didn’t cover it with PVC logos and dyes. And according to the TimeEven after the labels are removed, transfiguring your old stained canvas into a new fabric also consumes energy. So while it probably isn’t going to end up in the belly of a fish or stuck in the nostril of a sea turtle, the cotton in your 25 bags has its own set of issues, none of which seem all this surprising, but none the less disappointing.

Because ugh, so what’s the environmentally responsible way to transport my groceries home, if paper, cotton and plastics all leave large environmental footprints in their wake? Do I just… buy only what I can carry in both hands? How is this practical ?? This is not the case, and I would suggest using the bins. If that helps, the bad actor here is probably not so much you as The Brands. Some companies distribute cotton bags with every purchase, or default to the not very creative model of bag as a free gift to the subscriber (apologies to my employer; their last subscriber bonus is practical and robust; a real tote boat, it has to be said) drowning consumers in cotton tote bags that conveniently serve as free advertising. Maybe they could stop doing this? And maybe the rest of us could consider buying so much new crap, considering that cotton, plastic, and cardboard are all used to make and package the things we own in excess. I love my bags, but… it looks like I have enough of them to last several lifetimes.

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