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Are Reusable Bags Really Better for the Environment?

Not too long ago the Wall Street Journal published and article called An Inconvenient Bag.  The article talks about the reusable bag movement and questions this latest green trend.  While the article points to many valid and important reasons to replace paper and plastic with reusable bags, the argument against reusable bags seems to have gained the favor of the blogosphere and led many to question whether this is just another case of greenwashing.

It’s absolutely true that not all reusable bags are created equal.  Some are made locally , some are made overseas, some are organic , some are hemp , some use pesticides, some are made from post consumer recycled materials and some are even made from virgin plastics that may or may not be recyclable. (….)

To add to the confusion, some manufacturers use the words ‘recycled’ and ‘recyclable’ interchangeably, when they actually mean very different things.  This type of ignorance is misleading, frustrating and causes good people to doubt the ‘good’ that can be done by bringing your own bag.

The most popular reusable bags on the market today, by and large, are made of a fabric called ‘non woven polypropylene ‘.  Polypropylene is a plastic-based product, which at first glance certainly does seem like a contradiction.  In fact, when we first started Bulletin Bag [.com], we only offered organic, hemp & jute bags.  We struggled with the idea of offering the less expensive, wildly popular, non woven polypropylene bags.

After much research and deliberation, we concluded that these reusable bags, which are often ten times less expensive than some of the high end eco-fabrics, are an important ‘first step’ toward the new reusable society.  It’s a matter of economics… you have to make them easily accessible (logistically and financially) if you expect them to catch on with the main stream public.  These inexpensive reusable bags will get people to buy them, and help people get into the habit of using them.

It’s also important to note that as far as plastics go, polypropylene releases fewer dioxins during manufacturing and inceineration than some other plastics.  Polypropylene is also ‘recyclable’ (#5) — although some recycling facilities still do not accept #5 plastics.  You also need to remember that snaps or grommets are not recyclable and should be removed prior to tossing in the recycle bin.

We have yet to find a reusable bag with zero impact (don’t know if we ever will) — they all have their benefits and drawbacks.  What they all have in common is that they are reusable, and over the course of a year we can replace millions of single use plastic bags with reusable bags.

Your ‘shade of green’ should fit your budget and your beliefs.  What’s important is taking the small green steps that lead to a more responsible lifestyle.

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