Banning plastic bags, a good idea ?
Anyone would argue that the banning of “disposable” plastic bags in France was a very good thing for the environment, but what if the results were more nuanced than that ?
Since 2016, “one time only” thin plastic bags were banned in France and people were encouraged to buy stronger plastic bags that are reusable. Keep in mind that a plastic bag could take up to 450 years to decompose and that in France only, before 2016, around 5 billion plastic bags were sold in stores. We all naturally assumed that the ban of plastic bags would be the best thing to do to protect the environment, but did we forget to include the human factor to this problem?
Making laws protecting the environment is a very good initiative but educating people should be the priority, that’s the perfect example in the case of reusable plastic bags. Since plastic bags were no longer free, people were encouraged to bring their own… but that didn’t mean people weren’t buying reusable plastic bags when they needed it. And that’s a problem.
To be reusable, a plastic bag needs to be thick, meaning it needs more plastic to be made. So in theory, by now, we should have seen a decline of our plastic use thanks to swapping many single-use plastic bags for reusable plastic one. In practice, a new report from the Environmental Investigation Agency and Greenpeace UK proved that not much has changed.
In 2019, the top 10 UK grocery stores sold approximately 1.5 billion reusable bags to its 67 million inhabitants, and it’s good to point out that it’s 550 million more bags than in 2018. In other words, every household in the UK own about 54 reusable bags. Count how many reusable plastic bags you have at home and you may realize, like me, that you own way too many of them. The crazy thing about all of this is that, technically, to have a lower impact on global warming than single use plastic bags, reusable plastic bags should be used at least 4 times, which is very easy to do. But if you buy many reusable bags and never actually use them, you’re not helping the planet at all…
At the same time, don’t be fooled by thinking switching plastic bags for cotton bags (like tote bags) is be a better solution. You would need to use that cotton bag up to 131 times to have lower impact on the environment than single use plastic bags.
This problem is not concerning only the UK, the report also shows the same problem happening in some stores in Iceland where the sales of reusable plastic bags were multiplied by ten between 2017 and 2018. At this rate, this could end up being a bigger problem than single use plastic bags.
It’s very ironic because we’ve been aware of the danger of plastic bags for the oceans and the environment in general, but we failed to take into account that reusable bags could end up being worst if we don’t educate people better. There is maybe less plastic in the ocean and in nature, but we are wasting more resources and actually not achieving much to protect the environment. Perhaps it’s not just an education problem, maybe laws should be stricter and grocery stores should stop selling plastic bags… period.
So remember : always bring your own bag when you go grocery shopping !