Tuesday, 20 March 2012

It’s In The Bag!

About twenty years ago, I remember reading that ‘the average British Household contains at least 17 plastic carrier bags’ and for many years I have been trying to decrease my carrier bag use.

I have paid extra to get the more durable ‘bags for life’, collected freebie ‘promotional’ cotton carrier bags from exhibitions, used blue plastic shopping boxes from Sainsbury’s …and made myself [and countless other friends and family members] little storage bags to hang on the back of the kitchen door to hold rolled up plastic bags ready for re-use.


However the results of a recent study “to assess the life cycle environmental impacts of the production, use and disposal of carrier bags for the UK in 2006” were very interesting.


Those lovely cotton bags have a greater carbon footprint, and I must use my fabric one 131 times to match a single use of a plastic bag!


And if I re-use just 40% of my plastic carriers as bin liners, then that means 173 outings for the cloth bag [or 5 for the Bag For Life]


Re-using every plastic bag as a bin liner reduces the carbon footprint still more – and means 327 trips to Sainsbury’s for my fabric tote to match the footprint.


And if I manage to re-use the plastic bag three times – then I need to use the cotton one 393 times. [these charts from the BBC]


So what’s the answer? It is not always possible to re-use plastic bags- many are very flimsy and the sharp corner of a box, or a couple of heavy bottles can render a bag split and unusable half way home – so the bag doesn’t manage one journey, let alone a repeat.

I left a ‘biodegradable’ bag full of buttons behind a chair in the conservatory one summer. When I picked it up in the autumn, it had already been degraded by warmth and sunlight, and the buttons went everywhere!

DSCF3382I try to decline a bag when I shop, and keep a cotton bag rolled up in my handbag when I go out. It is not always avoidable though, and sometimes you need a waterproof bag. The blue bag of leeks in last week got at least 2 re-uses before lining my bin.

You can of course re-use in craft projects. Back in London I helped over 40 Girls’ Brigade girls make Christmas Wreaths with the bright green carriers that M&S used in the 80’s. 25 bags per wreath!


Many of our GB families used these weatherproof decorations year after year [and may still be doing so for all I know] Does that count as multiple re-use?

And there are groups who knit bags into warm and durable blankets to distribute to homeless folk.

homeless blankets

This Little Wonderwoman looks pleased with the blanket donations she has just made!

In the past week, I have acquired two bags, reused 5 in a shopping trip, discarded one, after it split on the return journey [the assistant commented on its age – it bore an ad for a Sainsbury's Campaign in 1999] and used 3 as bin liners, which disappeared to the landfill on the dustcart.

That’s a net loss of two bags over the week. I now have eighteen in the house. At this rate, I ought to be without plastic bags by June.

Do you use plastic bags? and re-use them?

How many uses do you get from cotton bags?

Have you a ‘favourite’ bag?


  1. Stores charge for bags here,some don't have bags at all ,but as I always use cloth bags I don't worry about it.
    Jane x

  2. French shops do not use plastic bags now. You have the option of buying a heavy duty one which they will replace for you, but no supermarket carries plastic now.

  3. Ditto for what Elizabeth says, of course - it's so easy to get used to taking bags with you, when you have no choice! But yesterday I saw someone putting all his shopping into the flimsy bags they give you to separate meat from the other goods, so it's still possible to cheat...

    I prefer the little foldable bags that tuck into a tiny pocket and go in my handbag. I use stronger cotton bags for my pupils (one bag for the books and equipment for each family) and they last ages.

  4. I carry reusable bags in the car. Also have two huge ones I bought from Lakeland for big shops. If we do get plastic bags they are reused then used as bin liners and if no longer usable they now go in the plastic recycling box.

    1. we do at least have good recycling arrangements here in Leicester, don't we?

  5. I have a collection of heavy duty cotton bags that have lasted me many years now. On occasion I'll get plastic bags, usually because I've forgotten to bring the cotton bags in the store. I reuse plastic bags to line trashcans.

    Our papers are delivered in plastic bags, and I use the blue ones for doggie bags (to put it politely). I've considered trying to knit the clear ones, but haven't tried it yet.


    1. I am always fascinated that US newspapers are delivered in bags - no end of thrift websites suggest good uses for them.

      But in the uk a 'doggie bag' is what you put leftover FOOD in, and is not connected with Poop Scoops!

  6. I will try to use more reusable bags now, since I already have them. My plastic bags are reused as trash lining or gets recycled. I have a few green bags I bought from Ralphs. I believe the city of San luis obispo, banned platic bags.

  7. I reuse plastic bags until they fall apart and always keep a bag of bags in the car. When a bag is starting to look well used, I put it inside another bag so it is used double. I find this extends the use considerably.

    The figures for reuse of a cotton bag compared with a plastic carrier definitely give food for thought. I now expect articles for patching attractively/strengthening/mending of handles of the cotton bags : )

  8. I try and remember and take some of the reusable bags when I go to the shops now. I reuse plastic bags as bin liners though.


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