Why I won’t be using green bags
AS THE plastic bag ban gets underway across Australia, some people have pointed out that their alternatives may not be much better.
Studies have emerged showing reusable bags such as the green bags commonly sold at Coles and Woolworths have to be used 104 times (weekly for two years) to make them more environmentally friendly than those grey single-use plastic bags.
This is because it takes more material and energy to make the green bags. It's also worth noting that these bags are also made of plastic.
Other non-plastic alternatives can also be problematic.
A 2016 report by the NSW Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found a cotton bag had to be used 131 times to equal the environmental impact of those single-use plastic supermarket bags used just once.
Clean Up Australia has recommended jute bags as because they are made from a sustainable fibre that doesn't require much water to produce.
"Jute doesn't take as much water to produce as cotton," a spokeswoman told news.com.au. "It can be grown very quickly and harvested quickly.
"Jute is also non-edible so we are not using a food source. The most sustainable elements to turn into bags are jute or bamboo."
The catch with these bags is that jute is mostly grown overseas and so there is a carbon cost to transporting it to Australia.
It's quite clear there is no perfect alternative and many people appear to be using this to suggest that the plastic bag ban is pointless or even just a way for supermarkets to make money.
Whether or not supermarkets are saving money is a separate issue because the reality is, plastic bags are not free. Someone has to pay for them whether that is at the checkout or in the future when we have a serious landfill problem, or we have to spend money cleaning up our oceans.
Putting a price on plastic is an important step to shift our mindset away from the idea that it is a "free" resource.
But in deciding what other bag to use, I believe people need to chose what works for them as one thing is clear: you have to use them often to make them worthwhile.
As someone who has been trying to reduce their use of plastic for years now, I've realised I don't like the green bags, partly because they are also made of plastic, but also because they are bulky and don't wash well.
I've also tried a jute bag, which I liked until some liquid detergent spilt in it and I had to clean it, which wasn't easy and left the bag looking pretty sad.
I prefer cotton bags because I can keep them in my handbag, making it more likely I will have them on me when I need them. They are also easy to throw into the washing machine with my other laundry.
I have also started to use a LOQI bag made of polyester, which is also a form of plastic, but is extremely compact and lightweight. It's also easier to clean as you can just wipe it down. While it's not ideal in terms of plastic use, if it helps me avoid other disposable options I feel like it's OK.
If you have to use a bag at least 100 times to equal the environmental impact of using a disposable plastic bag once, it's very important that it works for you.
I use my bags all the time, definitely more than once a week on average, so I feel confident that I'm getting my environmental money's worth.
Getting bogged down in identifying the most "green" bag is pointless if the best one is something you don't use. As they say, don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.