As Daniel Frank sarcastically notes, “Reusable tote bags” can “cause food poisoning but at least they’re worse for the environment than plastic bags.” He cites Jon Passantino of BuzzFeed News, who observes, “Those cotton tote bags that are so trendy right now have to be used *131 times* before it has a smaller climate impact than a plastic bag used only once.”Plastic bags make up somewhere between 0.5 and 1.0 % of the waste stream, depending on whose data you look at. To eliminate that 1%, the trade off is taking your plastic grocery bags to a recycling place (probably near the front door of your grocery store) or buying and maintaining the cloth bags - which means washing them and disinfecting them after every use. Naturally, companies like ChicoBag want you to buy their product instead of using plastic bags, and as part of pushing for that have committed some rather unsettling crimes. The industry trade group sued ChicoBag.
That was illustrated by a 2011 legal settlement between plastic bag makers and an importer of reusable bags, ChicoBag. The plastic bag makers sued ChicoBag for its use of false claims about the recycling rate and environmental impacts of plastic grocery bags in its promotional materials. (Those false claims are also the basis for municipal bans and taxes on plastic bags.) Under that settlement, ChicoBag was required to discontinue its use of its counterfeit EPA website and make corrections to its deceptive marketing claims, which had included sharing falsified government documents with schoolchildren. It was also required to disclose to consumers on its website that reusable bags in fact need to be washed. [Bold added - SiG]Central to the claims of the anti-plastic bag companies and organizations is that plastic bags are dangerous in the environment. When you consider that the United States is responsible for about one percent of plastic waste entering the oceans, and plastic bags are less than 1% of that 1%, we start seeing how small the problem actually is, yet they're willing to make people sick over them. The other argument is that plastics persist in the environment for long periods. Que the ominous claims of the Great Pacific Garbage patch, more accurately but less spectacularly known as that "spot with a higher density of partially biodegraded micro plastics".
Reusable bags “are a breeding ground for bacteria and pose public health risks — food poisoning, skin infections such as bacterial boils, allergic reactions, triggering of asthma attacks, and ear infections,” noted a 2009 report. Harmful bacteria like E. coli, salmonella, and fecal coliform thrive in reusable bags unless they are washed after each use, according to an August 2011 peer-reviewed study, “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.” [ Note: dead link]
Among the inaccurate claims that ChicoBag could no longer make after the settlement is one that contrasted the environmental impact of plastic versus reusable bags. Contrary to ChicoBag’s previous claims, a study done for the U.K. Environmental Agency showed it would take 7.5 years of using the same cloth bag (393 uses, assuming one grocery trip per week) to make it a better option than a plastic bag reused three times. See “Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags,” Executive Summary, 2nd page. As an earlier report on the subject noted (see p. 60):Unfortunately, I'm unable to look at any link in the last three paragraphs to check them for more details.
[A]ny decision to ban traditional polyethylene plastic grocery bags in favor of bags made from alternative materials (compostable plastic or recycled paper) will be counterproductive and result in a significant increase in environmental impacts across a number of categories from global warming effects to the use of precious potable water resources. … [T]he standard polyethylene grocery bag has significantly lower environmental impacts than a 30% recycled content paper bag and a compostable plastic bag.As the UK Environmental Agency pointed out in July 2011, a “cotton bag has a greater [harmful environmental] impact than the conventional [plastic] bag in seven of the nine impact categories even when used 173 times. … The impact was considerably larger in categories such as acidification and aquatic & terrestrial ecotoxicity due to the energy used to produce cotton yarn and the fertilisers used during the growth of the cotton” (see p. 60). Similarly, “Starch-polyester blend bags have a higher global warming potential and abiotic depletion than conventional polymer bags, due both to the increased weight of material in a bag and higher material production impacts” (see Executive Summary).
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