This week for #juneocean I wanted to talk about the all famous topic of plastic bags. As you have noticed, ever week a new country or state announces a ban for plastic bags. When I first moved to Australia, I was astounded that they still provided plastic bags in supermarkets in the year 2012! In France, for as long as I remember, my mother had been bringing big heavy duty bags to do our shopping. Indeed, when I look at the information, France ruled out using plastic bags in 2015 and is pioneering the way for future countries with this years single use takeaway containers, utensils and straws. France’s law for plastic straws, utensils and cutlery coes into affect in 2020.
While the governments, organisations and big dogs are slowly shifting their way to respond to the tsumani of plastic awaiting us in the oceans, we as individuals have enormous power by ourselves. If you were to stop using plastic bags, that could amount to as decreasing (lets say you go shopping twice a week, each week you get 4 bags, multiply that by the amount of weeks in a year, and you’re hovering around 500 single use bags just for you) Now consider that we are all shaped by the people we spend the most time with, invariably by eliminating your use of plastic bags you will inspire your mother, brother, sister, friend, uncle, colleague, daughter, son to do the same.
The beauty of this is, they might not even realize that they’re doing in the first place, but soon enough you have set off a chain reaction of positive change through your surroundings.
A quick over view of the plastic bag statistics :
- Shoppers worldwide are using approximately 500 billion single-use plastic bags per year.
- If you lined them up, they would circumvent the globe 4,200 times.
- It costs US$4,000 to recycle 1 tonne of plastic bags and you get a product that can be sold on the commodities market for US$32. – Meaning it is not financially viable to recycle them, making them disposable.
- Approximately 1 million sea birds also die from plastic.
More terrifying plastic ocean facts can be found here.
Did you know, that recent studies have found :
- 46,000 pieces of plastic in every square km of ocean.
- Every year, 6.4 million tonnes are dumped into the ocean. This is the same as 3,200 kilometres of trucks each loaded with garbage.
- Scientists have identified 200 areas declared as ‘dead zones’ where no life organisms can now grow.
How To Quick Single Use Plastic Bags
There are now debates whether the plastic bag ban is working or not, and I will get to that in an other article, today I wanted to discuss the best plastic bag alternatives out there. To quit your single use plastic habit today, you are going to need three things.
- Make the commitment to yourself. (stare at a photo of a turtle suffocating in plastic if it helps you find your why for making this choice)
- Pick your favourite plastic bag alternative
- Strategically place them in your car, bike, workbag, locker
- Place an extra one in your bike, car, workbag, locker
The biggest reason most people still rely on plastic is that it is convenient. If you forget to bring your own bag, giving in and grabbing what the supermarket has to offer (for now), seems the better option than having various goods spilling out of your hands for the remainder of the journey home. Create a new level of convenience for yourself, where your non plastic bags can be found anywhere and you aren’t caught without them. This way, even when you go on an emergency quick shop on your way home from work, you will have a bag waiting for you in the backseat. Smiling as you potentially save one turtles life.
What Bag Should I Chose
Now there have also been debates about what type of bag is genuinely more environmentally friendly than the single use bags. On one hand, anything that can be reused more than once before its shipped to a landfill (or in the 5% of cases recycled at special plastic bag recycling facilities) on the other hand, sturdier bags do require more energy to be created.
A single plastic bag three times has the same environmental impact as using a cotton tote bag 393 times.
“The impact was considerably larger in categories such as acidification and aquatic & terrestrial ecotoxicity due to the energy used to produce cotton yarn and the fertilisers used during the growth of the cotton,”
If you want to read more about whether tote bags are really more environmentally friendly here.
In 2008, the UK Environment Agency (UKEA) published a study of resource expenditures for various bags: paper, plastic, canvas, and recycled-polypropylene tote bags. Surprisingly, the authors found that in typical patterns of use and disposal, consumers seeking to minimize pollution and carbon emissions should use plastic grocery bags and then reuse those bags at least once—as trash-can liners or for other secondary tasks.
Since apparently there are so many ways we can make the wrong choice even when quitting single use bags, I will list bellow my recommendations for the best multiple use shopping bags.Anything you already own
For the smallest environmental impact, the best thing you can use is something you already own. Have a look in your garage, attic or cellar and dig around for any bags you may have. Reusing possessions you already possess eliminates any demand on resources and helps make use of potentially forgotten items.
If you do not own any sort of handy bag : whether it’s a canvas bag, tote bag, mesh bag or similar, you can upcycle some of your other belongings to create the perfect shopping buddy. On my other website, My Vegan Experiment, I have two different tutorials on how to turn old t-shirts or tanktops into bags.
Support an Organisation
The third best option, is to purchase a tote or bag, from which the proceeds go to supporting your favourite organisation. This has the double benefit of donation to a good cause, while spreading the message. Whether it is PETA, Ocean Conservation, Regenerative Agriculture at Mazi Farm, Turtle Rescue or similar.
These however are not perfect, as they require a large amount of resources and energy to get created, and sometimes they are not reused!
There is also another argument to tote bags, that their abundance makes people feel like their disposable, totally defeating the entire purpose of their creation. “They’re green on principle, but not the way people use them”
Second Hand Shop
Honestly, this one is probably tied for third place, or even beats my previous point and is what I generally do when I need to purchase something ‘new’ for myself. Go to your local second hand, thrift shop and see what you can find there. I have found some genuinely gorgeous items and always love the fun and challenge of searching for the discarded treasure.
Did you know that 30 kg per person of textile waste is created every year? (95% of which could be recycled?) The numbers of waste are hard to find anywhere, but in the USA alone, its over 1 million metric tons of textile waste.
Sturdy Bag at the Checkout
Now, if you’re at the shop, forgot your bag at home rather than in the car, your emergency second bag in the car has also ran away, you’re staring at the check out options. Single use plastic bag, biodegradable plastic bag or sturdy bag. The last one has the highest price tag, a shocking 3$. For that price, you could even get yourself a small coffee!! But alas, it is the best choice to make for the environment.
Wait, wait. You mentioned a biodegradable bag as an option and you didn’t pick it? Why is that?
Why Not Biodegradable Bags?
Unfortunately, many marketed biodegradable bags have 2 main issues with them.
- They only biodegrade in very specific conditions. Such as a commercial composter. If you were to just throw it in your own compost, it might not receive enough oxygen or UV light to break down to the starting parts.
- The pieces the bags break down to, are not necessarily all 100% organic, meaning now these small pieces of potentially harmful chemicals are entering your compost or ground at an even faster rate.
Simply, why depend on new technologies when a good old fashioned cloth bag is much less hassle, easier to use and lasts longer.
I would love to hear from you guys, what bags do you currently use? Do you think the plastic bag bans have worked? How do you feel your countries government is doing to help our oceans?