It’s common to hear that reusable bags – the ones you can use many times over, for months or even years– are great for the environment because they replace single use plastic bags. But why is this such a good thing?
Why are single use plastic bags a problem?
Many global and local problems are caused by single use plastic bags, including environmental damage, climate change and pollution caused by their manufacture; damage to wildlife and habitats from discarded bags and degraded plastic fragments; and damage to human health caused by the ingestion of chemical compounds found in plastic bags.
You can find more information about these and other problems disposable cause in our article about why we should not use plastic bags.
8 ways reusable bags help the environment
Now that we know single use bags cause so many problems, it’s clear that we need to replace them with less damaging, reusable bags. Here are some of the ways that choosing a reusable bag helps the environment.
#1 Protect wildlife – every disposable plastic bag that ends up in the ocean or countryside is a danger to fish, birds and mammals. Using reusable bags instead could save the lives of more than a million seabirds and 100,000 marine animals every year.
#2 Clean up cities, parks and oceans – because plastic bags are so lightweight, the wind easily blows them out of trashcans, refuse trucks and landfill sites to litter the landscape. If we replace them with reusable bags, our surroundings will gradually become clean and beautiful once again.
#3 Improve our chances of limiting global warming – if we choose reusable bags we can manufacture fewer plastic bags, which will cut carbon dioxide emissions. It may be a small contribution, but we need to do all we can to avoid catastrophic climate change; every little helps.
#4 Increase recycling rates – single use plastic bags are not normally recyclable, but many reusable bags are, so they can be turned back into something useful at the end of their life instead of going to landfill.
#5 Release public money for vital services – the cost of cleaning up plastic litter and sending waste to landfill uses up valuable public funds that could be spent on something more socially useful, such as education or healthcare.
#6 Keep more oil in the ground – since plastic bags are manufactured from oil, choosing not to use them means more fossil fuel can be left in the ground. This not only reduces carbon emissions but means this valuable, non-renewable resource will last longer.
#7 Improve drainage systems – plastic bag litter clogs drains and has caused, or contributed to, major floods around the world. Fewer plastic bags in the environment mean less flooding, less water-borne disease and better sustainability for vulnerable communities.
#8 Support sustainable jobs and economic growth – buying reusable bags made from sustainable crops such as bamboo or jute can help farmers and textile workers to support themselves and their families. In less developed nations, especially, demand for reusable bags can offer a valuable new revenue stream.
Will you help the environment?
You can dramatically reduce your use of plastic and your environmental impact by switching to reusable bags. But do remember that not all reusable bags are the same; some are more environmentally friendly than others.
Find out: Best Alternatives to Disposable Bags
And remember: No matter which you choose, the most important thing about a reusable bag is to keep reusing it! The more times it’s used, the more beneficial it is to the environment.