Canvas shopping bags have become an everyday part of life. Many stores and farmers’ market vendors have stopped giving away plastic bags, expecting customers to bring their own canvas bags or selling paper bags for a nominal price.
Some cities have banned plastic bags entirely. Plastic bags have become the enemy.
But according to a new study, plastic bags are actually more environmentally safe than those canvas shopping bags. That sounds completely counterintuitive, and that’s because it is. Plastic bags have short lifespans but create waste that can hang around for hundreds of years.
Getting rid of plastic bags would be great, which is where the reusable bag is supposed to come in. Unfortunately, canvas totes are far less efficient; they’re harder to make and require many more uses to serve their purpose.
The reason they aren’t as effective, however, is because we’re using them foolishly.
Reusable totes are everywhere, handed out for free, printed with logos, and treated like flyers. They get thrown out without being used. They’re wasted, and they used more energy and materials to create in the first place.
The problem isn’t that the bags aren’t capable of being more ecologically friendly, it’s that brands immediately latched onto them as yet another tool of marketing, and now they’re everywhere. People get so many canvas totes that they don’t even use them. Most people forego their use in favor of plastic bags even when they own them; half the time, they’re forgotten at home when a shopping trip is on the horizon, after all.
So what do we do about that?
There are no easy answers, but there is a hard one: We need to rethink how we consume, as a global society, so that we can reduce waste. That’s what it all comes down to. We make “stuff” faster than we can use it, and we don’t need most of it.