Even though most people believe that reusable bags are better than single-use bags, many still don’t use them even if they have them. A 2014 poll by a marketing research firm found that bags are forgotten approximately 40 percent of the time, leading reusable bag owners to use plastic bags.
Because so little material is needed to make a disposable plastic bag, they actually have a smaller carbon footprint than reusable bags. So for a reusable bag to be more environmentally friendly, they have to be used and, depending on the carbon footprint of the material they are made from, used a lot.
A 2011 study conducted by the UK Environmental Agency found that reusable bags made from recycled plastic need to be used 11 times and cotton bags need to be used 131 times before they are environmentally preferable to a single-use plastic bag.
All of this means that having a bunch of reusable bags sitting around that never get used isn’t of any benefit. Consider these strategies to maximize the environmental benefits of your reusable bags:
- Keep and accumulate only the number of bags that you use. Reusable bags are often given out for free at events, and subsequently many people have amassed a collection far larger than needed. Clear out the bags you don’t need by donating them for reuse.
- Keep your bags in a convenient place so you don’t forget to take them into the store with you. Store them by the door, in your car or in your purse – wherever they will be easy to grab.
- Remember to use your bags for more than just grocery trips. Take them with you when you are shopping at the thrift store, drugstore, mall and more - wherever you shop and are likely to need a bag.
- Mend your bags when they get holes or the seams start to come undone. Visit a Fix-It Clinic for help.
- Follow proper care instructions for cleaning, and be aware that some of the recycled plastic reusable bags will degrade quicker if laundered.
- Remember to use smaller reusable bags for produce as well. While many new options exist, they can easily be made from old sheets or tee shirts if you sew.
- Skip the bag whenever practical if you forget your reusable ones.