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Reusable Bags

2011 July 1

By Kasia Broussalian

A woman shields her eyes from the sun while sitting on the front steps of Union Square Park in New York City on Wednesday, May 25, 2011. Her reusable cloth bag, though labeled with the insignia “Parsons,” represents a relatively new and touted eco-friendly, fashion accessory. Makers span the entire spectrum, from traditional markets such as Whole Foods, Trader Joes, and even Kmart, to luxury designers and trendy clothing stores, such as J. Crew and Rebecca Taylor. As an alternative to plastic bags, reusable cloth bags are promoted by many environmentalists as going a long way towards relieving bulging landfills and city dumps. While the reusable cloth bag first became popular as a means of carrying groceries, women lately have taken to sporting them in addition to their primary handbag as a means of storing separate shoes, gym clothes, books, and the like.

However, there is some concern in the industry that reusable cotton or canvas bags could actually be more environmentally harmful then their plastic counterparts. Do you think that they release more Co2 emissions then the now-shunned plastic bags during their production? It would be interesting to hear our readers’ view on the use and impact of plastic versus reusable bags. Please comment below.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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4 Responses leave one →
  1. July 6, 2011

    It would be impossible to think that a bag you could use more than 300 times would be worse for the environment than one that takes 1000 years to bio degrade and was made to be used 1 time. Way to go USA, keep up the momentum!


  2. Ben permalink
    August 9, 2011

    It entirely depends on how many bags you use per trip and how long you keep the reusable bag. If you buy one reusable bag and it lasts for five years, you’re doing a lot better than if you used 10 plastic bags per week on average. But if you lose a bag a year or, even worse, buy the bag and then don’t use it, you’re doing worse than if you used just a few plastic bags a week. My biggest pet peeve is when the cashiers double bag unnecessarily – that’s a big waste.

  3. Mark permalink
    November 3, 2012

    30% biodegradable, paper bags, and clothe bags all require more fossil fuels, water,electricity, and emit more Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere during their production. In addition, those same bags create more solid waste than plastic bags, as plastic bags have a smaller mass. Also, it costs more money to ship non-plastic bags around the country due to their size and weight which results in more trucks being used which causes even more CO2 emissions to go into our atmosphere. Re-usable bags also are a public health problem due to the fact that the majority of people never wash them and pesticide residue on fruit, veggies, etc. accumulate and leach onto other foods or find their way into our mouths, wash your bags.

    Also, most plastic bags are 100% recyclable, nobody ever recycles them so litter and marine debris become issues due to ignorance. Take your bags back to the grocery store or throw them in your recycling containers and they will become more green than any clothe bag. PS plastic bags can be turned into usuable fuels to run small engines, youtube it.

    The enviornmental impact of every US citizen switching to non plastic bags is negligable as India and China make up the majority of the world’s population and are completely industrialized nations leaving giant carbon footprints with little to no remorse.

    I’d also be scepticle as to where clothe bags are being made. It’s not likely that it is in the US, so all you wanna be hippies better do some research and then you can join the rest of us “green people”

  4. Adam permalink
    May 18, 2014

    Plastic bags cause more damage to the planet. The size and weight of reusable bags may be bigger but because of the fact that they are reusable the result is that they accumulate so much less than plastic bags. I’m not sure how much energy the manufacturing of palstic bags cost vs. fabrics production but just because of the fact that fabrics degrade in few years while plastic degradation takes hunderds of years I would vote for reusabale bags. Instead of using reusbale bags made of papper or fabrics, what about using baskets and bags made of sustainable materials from the nature such as palm leaves?

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