Mee akpa a na-emegharịgharị na-enyere gburugburu ebe obibi aka
We know that plastic bags are bad. Countries all over the world are restricting plastic bags, and single-use plastics are being phased out. This is due to a number of factors, not least of which includes the fact that plastic will never fully deteriorate, leaving it to pollute soil, waterways, and oceans.
However, when it comes to sustainability, it can often feel like a moving target. As we learn more about our planet and our impact on it, practices that are deemed sustainable now might not be considered sustainable in the future. Because of this, it’s important that we are constantly evaluating our current practices and adjusting our approaches as we explore sustainability and the environment.
In that spirit, it’s important that we take a look at reusable bags and whether or not they are a true environmental solution to plastic bags. (Spoiler: they do help the environment, but they must also be used responsibly.)
How reusable bags help the environment
The problem with plastic bags isn’t so much in the bags themselves—plastic bags account for a very small percentage of household waste—but in their ubiquity. Trillions of plastic bags are used worldwide every year. Because they are lightweight, many of these plastic bags end up abandoned in nature even if they are properly disposed of; they can easily catch the wind and escape landfills. Once they are in nature, they will break down into microplastics and pollute soil and waterways. Due to the high volume of plastic bag usage, the pollution quickly adds up.
Reusable bags reduce the number of plastic bags that are being used, which helps to mitigate this issue. They are more durable than plastic bags, so fewer reusable bags need to be produced and used. Due to their long life, they help to reduce waste overall.
Reusable bags are also often made from recyclable materials. Single-use plastic bags are typically made from low-value plastic, and although they can be recycled, their low value rarely justifies the effort of recycling. On the other hand, plastics like polypropylene (which constitute many reusable bags) and other materials can be recycled more easily, further closing the waste loop surrounding reusable bags.
This checks off two high-ranking items on the waste hierarchy: reusability and recyclability. In this way, they are far superior to plastic bags, which can only be discarded linearly (they’re produced, they’re used, they’re thrown away). Within circularity, reusable bags are clearly the superior choice.
However, there are some caveats to reusable bags. If they are used improperly (for example, if the bag is only used once) it may not be as environmentally friendly as you think.
Reusable bags must be used properly
The key reason why reusable bags are a more sustainable option than plastic bags is their reusability; they reduce waste because fewer reusable bags are discarded. The truth is that reusable bags carry a bigger initial environmental impact than reusable bags. In order to make them durable and versatile, they require more resources and raw materials to produce. Their impact lessens the more the bags are used.
According to a report published in 2011, a non-woven PP bag needs to be used 11 times in order to match the global warming potential of a single plastic bag. Other reusable bag materials, like cotton, need to be used 100 times or more to match the global warming potential. This does not mean, however, that reusable bags have a greater environmental impact than plastic bags overall. It simply means that reusable bags must be reused if they are to achieve minimal impact.
As a retailer, you should also do your due diligence to ensure that the reusable bags that you offer are responsibly sourced. Although the greatest environmental impact of reusable bags comes from their production, you can do your part to ensure that the reusable bags that you offer have as small of an initial footprint as possible. If you care about the environmental impact of your reusable bags, you need to ensure that they come from socially and environmentally ethical sources. Third-party certification and other measures allow you to choose reusable bags that are as green as possible. Encourage and educate your customers on reusable bag use.
Although you can’t control how your customers use the reusable bags that you offer, you can use your company’s position to educate and encourage your customers to use their bags correctly.
Use social media channels and other outlets to educate your customers on plastic bag waste and reusable bag usage. Emphasize the fact that reusable bags are green only if they are reused. Print facts and statistics on the side of your reusable bags detailing how many plastic bags reusable bags can save over their lifetime, focusing on the importance of reuse.
You can also incentivize reuse by offering discounts to those who bring their own bags. If you use reusable bags for delivery or another similar service, offer free items for customers who return the bags.
Don’t disregard the power of aesthetics. Opt for durable reusable bags with a stylish design to make it more appealing for customers to carry around. When reusable bags are more of a fashion statement, people will be more likely to carry them around. Remember, people want to be more sustainable. All it takes is some education and incentivization, and better habits will be formed.
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