Study: Reusable Bags Must Be Used 131 Times To Overcome Environmental Costs

220px-Trash_bin_in_ParisThere is an interesting study by the U.K. Environment Agency that challenges the view of banning plastic bags is clearly better for the environment. Sometimes green measures can have hidden carbon costs or negative externalities. The study suggests that a cotton reusable bag commonly used for groceries must be used at least 131 times to overcome their costs and be a net positive for the environment. Los Angeles recently added its name to the list of cities banning free polypropylene bags. Customers must pay 10 cents a bag or bring a reusable bag.

Conversely, a polypropylene bag must be used 11 times to overcome their costs, though that would seem unlikely. Yet, many of the reusable bags are made in China or Vietnam and subject to fuel costs and pollution in transporting them to customers. They are “energy intensive materials” to manufacture.

I still see the value of limiting single use bags which have adverse effects for marine ecosystems, solid waste management, global resource consumption and litter. Only 5 percent of these bags are recycled. Paper bags of course result in huge use of trees that can be avoided with reusable bags.

While I love the convenience of plastic bags, I have been trying to limit my use of the bags. The important thing about this study, however, should not be ignored. Sometimes green measures can be satisfying but actually can raise environmental costs.

45 thoughts on “Study: Reusable Bags Must Be Used 131 Times To Overcome Environmental Costs

  1. @Squeek

    I’m sure Jill will be horrified cause she’s a bit of a snowflake. I love her platform and think she is a genuine person, however her choice of VP is disturbing. Calling Cornel West and “uncle Tom” because he supported Bernie? Seriously?!!

    I will vote for her though because we need a third party.

  2. I took an Environmental Economics class in college, back in the 1980s. Guess what? The biggest negative impact on the environment is third-world to first-world immigration. When you have people who used a donkey cart in Pakistan, or rode a bicycle in China, moving to the U.S. and driving SUVs, multiplied by 100,000 immigrants per year, you have the making of a massive carbon imprint. So you and your cats can reuse plastic bags until the end of time, but you’re wasting your time as it won’t make even a tiny dent in the the environmental harm caused by immigration.

    • @Tin: “So you and your cats can reuse plastic bags until the end of time, but you’re wasting your time as it won’t make even a tiny dent in the the environmental harm caused by immigration.”

      To follow the argument, the biggest threat to the environment is economic development of third world countries. With nearly 9 billion people in the world, raising the living standards of those billions will have a far greater impact than immigration ever could – simply because of the numbers of people involved.

      Just imagine the impact on the price of gasoline when all those billions of people decide they want a mini-van so they can live in the suburbs and still have plenty of room to carry the kids soccer team to practice.

  3. They are too weak to last that long. Only the heavy duty bags at the Sams Club check out or similar elsewhere are worth the trouble and we buy ten of those at a time to use elsewhere. Most of the rest require double or triple bagging so what’s that 408 ha ha ha one use as garbage bags sand in the dumpster she goes.

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