A report commissioned by UK’s Environment Agency shows that commonly-used plastic ‘bags for life’, if used four or more times, will have a lower carbon footprint than single-use carrier bags. Lightweight single-use carrier bags have the lowest carbon footprint per bag based primarily on resource use and production. Paper, heavyweight plastic and cotton bags all use more resources and energy in their production. A key issue, however, is how many times bags are reused.
The popular plastic ‘bags for life’ (low-density polyethylene), provided by many supermarkets, need to be used only four times to ensure they have a lower carbon footprint than lightweight bags used only once. Premium, heavier weight ‘bags for life’ that look like fabric and are made from woven plastic if used 11 times will have a lower carbon impact than single use bags. The Environment Agency said that other environmental impacts of single-use lightweight plastic bags such as litter – which weren’t assessed by the study – also need to be taken into account. The report - Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags - was requested by the previous UK Government. It was part of an overall study they were carrying out on how to reduce the environmental impact of retail and food packaging. It has been published today following a period of peer review and discussion with the retailers.
The main findings of the study are:
· Whatever type of bag is used, the key to reducing the overall impact is to reuse it as many times as possible, whether for shopping, bin liners or other purposes.
· The popular plastic ‘bag for life’ (low-density polyethylene) only has to be used four times to ensure that it has a lower carbon footprint than single-use, light-weight (high-density polyethylene) carrier bags. An Environment Agency spokesperson said: ‘A significant part of the environmental impact of these bags is associated with the resources used in their production. All multi-use bags need to be reused as much as possible to reduce their relative environmental impact and be responsibly recycled at the end of their life. ‘Plastic “bags for life” only need to be used a few times to have a lower environmental impact than single-use carrier bags.’