NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Are Reusable Shopping Bags Environmentally Friendly?

March 22, 2011

A new study from the United Kingdom entitled the "Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags" is casting doubt on the supposed environmental benefits of reusable shopping bags, reports the Heartland Institute.

The study, published by the U.K. Environment Agency, found the potential of reusable shopping bags to benefit the environment depends on how many times they are used before being discarded.  Real-world data show the bags are currently harming the environment instead of helping it. 

  • "Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing the impacts is to reuse it as many times as possible," the summary states.
  • "The paper, low-density polyethylene (LDPE), non-woven polypropylene and cotton bags should be reused at least three, four, 11 and 131 times respectively to ensure that they have lower global warming potential than conventional high-density polyethylene (HDPE) carrier bags that are not reused."

In other words: Grocery shoppers must use their cloth bags 131 times to see the environmental benefits of using reuseables that environmentalists tout.  On top of that, shoppers who reuse their plastic grocery bags aren't committing the environmental cardinal sin to the level that alarmists claim.

Source: Cheryl K. Chumley, "Study: Reusable Bags an Environmental Loser," Heartland Institute, March 14, 2011.


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