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Do Reusable Bags Really Help The Environment?

Using reusable bags over plastic or paper bags can save on money, resources and have a positive impact on the environment as well. Here you’ll learn the different facts about plastic and paper bags, the benefits of reusables and some tips to make the most out of your reusable bags.

Facts About Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are often mistaken as food by animals, particularly when the bags:

  • Are brightly colored
  • Carry food residues
  • Are animated by the water’s movement

Various animals, land and particularly marine, can choke on bags, causing death, or experience distress and pain. If they swallow the bags whole, animals can’t digest real food and this results in infection or starvation which can lead to death.

The world’s oceans have drastically increasing amounts of plastic floating in them.

The Northern Territory Environment Protection Authority statistics show:

  • Plastic bags are often used for just a short time period, but they can take hundreds of years in landfills to break down. While you can recycle plastic bags, only small proportions of plastic bags are actually collected and reprocessed.
  • When you base the use of 10 lightweight plastic bags each week over a two-year period, there is three times the greenhouse gas impact than there is from a reusable “green bag.”
  • Individuals in the U.S. use 100 billion plastic bags every year, requiring 12 millions barrels of oil that needs to be manufactured, according to Waste Management.  Only one percent of plastic bags are recycled, according to Waste Management, meaning the average family each year only recycles around 15 bags; the rest wind up as litter or in landfills.

NRCD estimates, the average family in the U.s. takes home nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags each year. And, up to 80 percent of plastic pollution in the oceans enter from land, based on SPREP estimates.

Facts About Paper Bags

Paper bags continue to be an option in grocery stores, and many consumers prefer to use them out of convenience — some individuals just assume they’re better than plastic bags for the environment. But, paper bag production is still harmful to the environment in a few ways.

Statistics through sites at Penn State show:

  • They take more energy than plastic bags to produce
  • Individuals in the U.S. use approximately 10 billion paper bags every year, equating to 14 million trees being cut down each year
  • Paper bags cost more to produce than do plastic bags
  • There’s a 50 percent recovery rate for paper sacks and bags

Paper bags produce 70 more air pollutants than do plastic bags and paper bags generate 50 times more water pollutants than do plastic bags

But, is paper really better than plastic?

The answer is no, they’re not. Paper still does a great deal of damage to the planet and each time people grab several bags at the grocery store, they’re contributing to this damage.

Benefits of Reusable Bags

Conventional paper and plastic bags aren’t healthy for the environment. Some benefits of reusable shopping bags are:

  1. They’re cost-effective: You can use reusable cloth bags for years and never have to toss them away. If they become dirty, you simply throw them in the washing machine and keep on using them.
  2. They’re strong: You can use them for many years. They also carry much more weight than plastic bags.
  3. They save resources:  Plastic bags use natural gas and crude oil to manufacture, they’re non-biodegradable and they require even more fossil fuel to ship. When you use a reusable bag, you’re not just decreasing the amount of non-renewable resources needed for producing plastic bags, but you’re also decreasing the amount of money it costs each year for your community to clean them up.
  4. They’re reliable and durable: Unlike plastic bags that are flimsy, reusable bags are durable and you can carry a lot more at one time. Fill them right up — they won’t break. This means you’ll make fewer trips from your car and back and can carry more at a time comfortably.

See also: 35 Things You Can Do with a Reusable Bag

Tips for Reusing Bags

Below are some tips that should help make it simpler for you to make the most of your reusable shopping bags.

  1. Put Them At the Top of Your Shopping List

Always have “Bags” at the top of your shopping list. After all, they are one of the most important items on your list.

  1. Keep Them in Your Car

Reusable bags aren’t going to help you much if you forget to bring them with you when you’re out shopping. So, leave them in your car. When you have the bags with you at all times, you’ll be more likely to put them to use. You can even find bags that roll up in tight small packages so you can fit them in your purse.

  1. Put Them in Other Strategic Locations

Keep extra reusable bags in strategic places where you may need them. These could be in your purse, by the front door, or in the garage.

  1. Have Others in Your Family Use Them

You can put reusable bags to a number of different uses, including:

  • Carrying picnic lunches
  • Toting library books
  • Packing beach supplies
  • Carrying lunch for school or work

Having others use reusable bags as well to carry their things will help the environment even more. Not only do reusable bags make it easier to carry things around, but they can also reduce clutter in your home and in local landfills.

Plus, you know your grocery bags aren’t going to bust open when you’re carrying your groceries because the bags are too flimsy. Reusable bags are strong and will hold a lot of your groceries.

  1. Wash Your Reusables Regularly

Don’t forget, you’ll also be carrying things like dairy and meat which could contaminate the bags, so you’ll want to wash them regularly to keep them clean and safe to use. You can simply toss them in your washing machine and dry them as normal.

So, the real question here is, are reusable bags better than plastic or even paper bags? The answer will really depend on how committed you are to using them. If you use them regularly, and you should, then yes, you’ll be contributing to a less cluttered and healthier planet.


Written and edited by (RTB). RTB is one of the original U.S grown suppliers of eco-friendly wholesale reusable and recycled promotional product bags and totes available in custom sizes.

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