The year is 2021. Recycling is officially cool, and single-use plastics are out. 

Stores, cities, states and entire countries have banned single-use plastics. This often includes plastic forks, food truck styrofoam clamshells and grocery bags you will use once, maybe twice, and then throw away. Sure, these items are super convenient for 30 minutes, but they can last for hundreds of years and pollute our environment. 

Yes, you can recycle them (here’s how), but most recycling facilities don’t, and what gets recycled is often recycled incorrectly. In fact, according to the EPA, the United States generated 4.2 million tons of plastic in 2018, and more than 3 million tons were sent to the landfill. The rest was either burned for energy or recycled.1 

Taking Steps in the Right Direction

Clearly, things have got to change — and they are! One way is to change our mindset about recycling. Another way we can lower our environmental impact is to cut the need for single-use plastics entirely. Enter the reusable tote bag, a tiny but mighty game-changer in the journey to greener pastures and cleaner skies. 😎

Let’s talk about what makes these durable shopping bags totes fetch. We also need to discuss how you can prevent the dreaded “collecting dust” syndrome that plagues even the most religious of reusable bag owners. 

Single-Use Plastic Bags vs. Paper Bags vs. Reusable Bags

Single-Use Grocery BagsPaper BagsReusable Bags
  • Cheap

  • Takes 20 years to break down

  • Not easily recyclable

  • Not compostable
  • Compostable

  • Recyclable

  • Natural fiber

  • Requires lots of resources
  • Reusable 1000+ times

  • Many different materials

  • Sustainability depends on how often you use them
  • Plastic Grocery Sacks

    You collect single-use plastic bags at the grocery store to carry your food home. And they’re not as bad as people make them out to be, but they’re far from perfect. 

    Let’s explain. Plastic grocery bags actually have the lowest environmental impact compared to many other types of sacks or bags. People typically use them about twice: once when they bring their groceries home and another for other things around the house, such as a trash can liner. Additionally, they are on the lower end of the plastic timeline, taking about 20 years to break down.

    The problem? They’re hardly ever used more than twice, they cannot be recycled easily (do not add them to your recycling bin), and if they are recycled incorrectly, they can actually damage recycling machines. Here’s how to recycle them properly

    Paper Bags

    Paper bags can be more eco-friendly AND more harmful than single-use plastic bags at the same time. It all depends on how you use them: 

    • On one hand, paper bags are compostable and recyclable, but few people compost or recycle them.
    • Creating paper products is a huge burden on resources, including water and wood.
    • If you choose paper, it’s always best to reuse them as many times as you can before throwing them out. Placing them into the compost or recycling bin is always best. 

    Reusable Bags

    Reusable bags come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. These bags can be used literally thousands of times before needing to be replaced. However, it’s both the number of times you use the bag and what material it’s made of that truly matters, whether that’s cotton, canvas, jute, recycled plastic, or some other material. 

    So, in theory, they’re all great — but their environmental impact depends on how much you use them. 

    Which Material is Best for Multi-Use Totes?

    Each type of reusable bag has a different carbon footprint. In fact, some experts “throw shade” at cotton bags for their strain on resources. But at the end of the day, if you are committed to putting your shopping bag to good use, then their environmental impact will be largely diminished. Don’t worry. 

    Here’s a helpful guide for each bag material and the number of uses you need to get out of it before its footprint is neutralized.

    Bag Material

    Approx. Number of Uses

    Paper3
    Polypropylene (plastic)11
    HempN/A (less than cotton)
    JuteN/A (less than cotton)
    Cotton131

    Quick Tips for Getting Good Use Out of Your Bags

    Reusable bags are only as eco-friendly as you make them. Therefore, actually using them is key. But digging them out of your dusty closet is easier said than done. Here’s what we recommend:

    • Keep 90% of your reusable bags in your car. If they’re in your house, put a few in each of your vehicles now. 
    • If you don’t have a car, keep them by the entrance of your residence. That way, you see them all the time and can take them as needed. 
    • Keep a few in the house in case you need them for lunch, carrying things, and other simple tasks.
    • Don’t buy new bags if you don’t need them.
    • If you’ve worn out your bags (i.e. the handle broke, the bottom is falling out), then make sure you actually like your new bags! You’re more prone to use them if you like their design, pattern or saying. 

    And if you forget them (like we all do at times), paper or plastic is OK. Just make sure you save them both. 

    You Can Make the Switch to Reusable Tote Bags Today

    We know you’ve got some reusable bags stored up somewhere. If not, they’re very affordable and offer a great way to show off your personality. We personally love the Whataburger bags here in Texas!

    For even more tips on greening your life and making cleaner choices, check out our blog and Chariot University page. 

    Sources:

    1. https://www.epa.gov/facts-and-figures-about-materials-waste-and-recycling/frequent-questions-regarding-epas-facts-and 
    2. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/291023/scho0711buan-e-e.pdf 

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.