Use That Organic Cotton Shopping Bag 20,000 Times or It’s Worse for the Environment

“Our assumptions about what is environmentally friendly don’t always stand up to scrutiny.”

Recent research by the Ministry of Environment and Food in Denmark, published by the DEPA (Denmark Environmental Protection Agency), – Executive summary in English begins on page 13 – reinforces claims I’ve made here for years. The replacement for plastic shopping bags are worse for the environment.

Which is the carrier bag providing the lowest environmental impacts? In general, with regards to production and disposal, LDPE carrier bags, which are the bags that are always available for purchase in Danish supermarkets, are the carriers providing the overall lowest environmental impacts for most environmental indicators (Table III).

In particular, LDPE carrier bags with rigid handle provided in general the lowest environmental impacts in the majority of the impact categories included in this LCA study.

According to the Danes, you would need to reuse the woven cotton bag 7100 times before it would have the same environmental impact as a single-use plastic grocery bag, for all indicators in their study.

7,100 times means that if you go grocery shopping once per week (and you shouldn’t go more often because that’s bad for the environment too), you will have to use that bag for 136 years.

It isn’t easy being green.

If your only concern is “climate change,” in other words, the impact these bags have on Unicorns or the elusive “honest Democrat politician,” you only need to lug the cotton bag back and forth a paltry fifty-two times for it to be as environmentally safe as plastic. If it’s organic cotton you need to reuse that 143 times. That’s just for global warming.

If you consider all indicators (not just global climate warming change), organic cotton bags must be reused 20,000 times considering all other indicators. (That’s reusing the same bag 278 times a year over the entire duration of the average human life, give or take.)

And what are these other indicators? Here’s the list of the best choice of bag for each.

Grocery bag impact study 1

And who gives a damn about resource depletion, ecosystem toxicity, terrestrial eutrophication, ozone formation, cancer, and all that? The same people wearing trash costumes to your town council meetings?

On a positive note, assuming the plastic bag waste costume does not include any cotton it is less dangerous to the environment than either the person in it or whatever passes for their wardrobe when they aren’t dressed up like a pile of trash or a vagina or in a black outfit with their face covered wielding a jar of urine. Varying skins on the same ideologically rotten fruit, some falling not far from the tree before it is thrown at their political opponents.

In another bit of better news, there are a number of reusable-style bags that fare a great deal better than cotton. So the practice might not be a total waste. Though I confess that when choosing an aisle to check out in at the grocery store the presence of any reusable bags among the shoppers before me is a greater deterrent than the length of the line itself. A line with more people moves faster because one person with reusable bags have repeatedly proven to waste the time of clerks and baggers and everyone else. And it’s not just the bag. The people using them, not all but most, like to conduct their use exacerbating the delays.

Reusable bags must come with a certain amount of pretension that manifests itself in a further reduction in the productivity of the employees. Another cost not calculated against the environmental docket.

And the more expensive the reusable bag or the more certified its pedigree (note what was written above about organic cotton) the longer the exercise takes. The longer it takes the greater its overall burden on the planet.

And yes, it is for them that I persist in reporting on how they are wasting my time for no good purpose unless that was, in fact, their purpose.

Environmentally speaking, their moral superiority complex (no less than Al Gore’s Private Jet) is a greater danger to the planet than their choice of shopping ‘luggage.’

And while not all reusable bags are as dangerous as their users the overall winner (environmentally, at least according to the DEPA) is also the cheaper and most readily available.

No, we don’t expect you to give up your hokey religion. Just stop demanding mandatory taxpayer tithing in support of it and don’t badger people who don’t want to participate.

In other words, we’d like you and your environment-killing organic cotton re-usable bags to go away and leave us alone.

Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags