Single Use Plastic Shopping Bags or Durable Enviro Bags?

Published On April 4, 2015

Single use shopping bags being phased out

Shopping bags are such a major environmental problem in Australia and around the world (1-10) that many countries and cities are taking steps to ban the use of plastic shopping bags (11-16). Since single use plastic shopping bags may be discarded into the environment after just one brief use these types of shopping bags have long been considered to be the biggest problem (17-19). While single use shopping bags may have a very short life as a carry bag for one trip from the supermarket back home, they may then have a very extended second life as pollutants in the environment.

Reusable enviro shopping bags to reduce consumption

For this reason the current trend is to develop and use more reusable enviro shopping bags which will significantly cut bag consumption because such shopping bags may be reused, perhaps for 2-3 years (9,20-24). Experts also worry that even single use biodegradable or compostable shopping bags may increase consumption because of their short life (25-28), hence the current trend to use more reusable shopping bags. Only by repeatedly reusing our shopping bags can the issue of consumption be addressed.

Plastic shopping bag free communities

As the consequences of pollution from single use plastic shopping bags becomes clearer more businesses and communities are voluntarily choosing to ban such bags and utilize more environmentally friendly alternatives, especially reusable shopping bags (29-39).

Non woven polypropylene plastic or compostable enviro shopping bags?

Currently non woven polypropylene plastic is the most popular material for reusable shopping bags because of its durability, water resistance, recyclability, and low cost. Until truly biodegradable or compostable shopping bags can match the durability and long life of non woven polypropylene bags then the use of these bags remains somewhat controversial, mainly because of concerns about increased consumption and littering as compared to the latter type of shopping bag (25,26,27,28).

Non woven shopping bags and the environment

The fact that non woven polypropylene shopping bags degrade into tiny pieces of plastic and are not compostable creates somewhat of a less visible problem. Concerns are increasing about the possible consequences of environmental plastic pollution from minute pieces of plastic, which because of their minute size, are impossible to remove from the environment (3, 40,). The possible environmental effects of these microscopic plastic pollutants are of course totally unknown. Since experts did not predict the environmental effects of single use plastic bags then we must all wait to see the eventual environmental impact of microscopic plastic pollution from non woven shopping bags. It is an experiment which, like it or not, we are all part of.

While the use of non woven polypropylene addresses many of the current environmental concerns about single use shopping bags, it remains the responsibility of everyone to minimize pollution by reducing consumption, increasing recycling, and disposing of litter properly. Enviro bags will never be a substitute for responsible behaviour.


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