As the use of plastic bags is being rapidly reduced by the 5p charge, many people are welcoming the news. But reducing the use of plastic bags and replacing them with other materials won’t necessarily make a greener planet.
This is because eco-friendly or ‘green’ means different things depending on what the environmental impact will be.
It’s not in dispute that plastic bags have caused harm to wildlife. However, this is more due to the way us humans have disposed of them. A plastic bag won’t harm anyone if it is used and disposed of correctly.
Materials that are often put forward as greener materials might well have less direct impact on wildlife, but this doesn’t mean they are better for the environment. One study found that cotton bags need to be used a total of 131 times to be considered truly green.
This is not an impossible target to reach, but how many people would remember to reuse their cotton bag this many times?
A paper bag, meanwhile, must be used at least 3 times to be green due to the energy that goes into producing it.
So while the alternatives have the potential to be greener than plastic, it again comes down to how these materials are used and re-used which will determine how green they are.