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Could Plastic Really Be the Greenest Bag Option?

2/21/2011 12:00:00 AM

Tags: Environmental Agency, pollution, HDPE, reusable bags

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailIs anything easy?

For years, I’ve felt pretty smug about bringing my own cloth bags to the grocery store. I save a little on my grocery bill (5 cents a bag), and I’m not supporting the nasty plastic industry or killing trees for paper bags. Easy green points, right?

Martin Hickman reports in yesterday’s Guardian that an unpublished British Environment Agency report suggests that high density polythene (HDPE) bags are actually greener than paper or cloth. For each use, HDPE bags are almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton and emit less than one third of the carbon dioxide as paper bags. “The bag performed well because it was the lightest single-use bag considered,” the study concludes.

The study—which assessed the bags based on pollution caused by raw material extraction, production, transportation and disposal—was commission in 2005 and scheduled for publication in 2007, but the Environment Agency says it is still being reviewed.

The study’s flaw, in my mind, is that it assumes people use cotton bags only 51 times before they discard them. The beauty of cotton and canvas bags is that they can be washed and re-used indefinitely. (I’ve had some for more than a decade.)

Do be sure to wash your bags regularly in hot water. Lisa Hover reports in Lifehacker that random tests on reusable grocery bags found that 64 percent were contaminated with bacteria, about 30 percent had elevated bacterial counts, 40 percent had yeast or mold and some had an unacceptable presents of coliforms.

Also, be wary of “nonwoven polypropylene” bags, including those sold by Safeway, Walgreens, CVS, and Blooms, which a new report by the Center for Consumer Freedom (CCF) found to have high lead content. “The results revealed that 16 retailers had bags with excessive lead, with some bags containing nearly 7 times the amount of the levels set by states for heavy metals in packaging,” Katherine Lee reports in Katherine offers some great tips in her post How to Use Reusable Shopping Bags Safely. 

plastic bag 

An unpublished study says plastic bags are greener than paper or cloth. iStock photo 




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