Plastic Vs Cotton bags: Which is more sustainable?
Written by Emmanuelle Gammage
Like all debates in sustainability, there are no clear-cut statistics to determine a definitive answer. In recent years, many people have begun to use cotton tote bags instead of plastic shopping bags and on the surface, it would appear more sustainable because we all know that plastic is ruining our planet. But is this really the case?
We must consider production, usage, and disposal of bags
There are three main issues to consider for this argument: how each bag is produced, how our use of the bag impacts the environment, and how their disposal impacts our environment.
When you pit plastic and cotton bags against each other one-to-one, it appears that cotton bags are in fact, less sustainable. Cotton bags require more material and more energy to create than a plastic shopping bag. However, you must consider how often cotton bags and plastic bags are used. According to a UK government report, to be more eco-friendly than a plastic bag, a cotton bag would have to be used 173 times.
So we’ve established an important point here – the more you use a bag, the more eco-friendly it becomes!
In terms of plastic, we use 5 trillion plastic bags per year. That’s a whopping 160,000 per second and 700 a year per person. Of all those plastic bags circling our planet, less than 1% are recycled.
When we go food shopping and we’ve realised we’ve left our reusable bags at home, we buy a plastic bag at the till and use it for approximately 12 minutes. It might not seem like a big deal, but that bag will take up to 1,000 years to decompose.
12 minutes will cost the planet 1,000 years. Let that sink in.
It sounds horriﬁc (it is!) but cotton has some alarming statistics too which makes our argument pretty complicated.
Plastic is no angel, but neither is Cotton
Cotton growing uses more herbicides than any other crop in the world. It’s a pesticide heavy crop: it’s grown on 2.5% of the world’s agricultural land and consumes 16% of all the insecticides and 7% of all the herbicides used worldwide.
The production of cotton is also water demanding, it takes ten tonnes of water to produce a single pair of jeans. The Aral Sea (that has eﬀectively disappeared) is testimony to the heart-breaking impact of cotton production because the chemicals used in cotton runs oﬀ the ﬁelds and contaminates surrounding ecosystems and groundwater.
Cotton tote bags have become somewhat of a fashion statement too. Many brands hand them out promotionally, which may appear like they’re doing good for the environment, but it could be deemed greenwashing. The trendy sustainable woman that owns ten tote bags in diﬀerent colours and patterns, probably isn’t sustainable at all.
If you own ten tote bags, the production and energy is far worse for the environment than owning ten plastic bags. However, if you own one tote bag and use it often for all your needs, then you’re on the right track.
This argument rests on how often you use your bags. Ultimately, producing one plastic bag is more sustainable than producing one cotton bag. However, repeatedly using your cotton bag until it’s very last day, is more sustainable than repeatedly buying plastic bags. Reuse, reuse, reuse is always the answer when it comes to sustainability.
But what about paper bags?
Another option to throw into the mix is single-use paper bags. Although paper bags would only have to be reused three times to reduce its environmental impact compared to plastic, the likelihood of a paper bag lasting for three uses is slim due to its low durability.
Of course, paper is recyclable, which is beneﬁcial, but it takes a considerable number of resources and energy to produce and transport: it takes four times more energy to produce a paper bag than a plastic bag. Additionally, it causes deforestation and contributes to air pollution.
But there is another option that is neither a single-use plastic bag, a paper bag, or a cotton tote bag.
Enter stage left: Kind Bags
80% of the plastic bottles we buy end up in landﬁll. To tackle this horrendous plastic problem and the devastating environmental impact of the fashion industry, Kind Bag takes these plastic bottles and recycles them to create beautiful, reusable, 100% recyclable bags.
“We’re NOT another (pollutive, weak, or ugly) reusable bag” they assert.
In comparison to cotton totes and plastic bags, Kind Bag only needs to be used two-to-three times to make a positive environmental impact.
Of the 13 billion plastic bottles we use every year in the UK, 5.5 billion plastic bottles end up in landﬁll, incineration or littered. By putting some of that plastic to better use and eﬀectively giving it another home, it works towards saving our planet.
Kind Bag is bridging the gap between fashion and sustainability which means you don’t have to sacriﬁce your passion or your morals and more than that – they’re durable. They can hold up to 20kg of weight, more than enough to carry your groceries, gym kit or beachwear. Plus, they fold up neatly so you can keep it safe in your pocket or handbag and never have to worry about buying a single-use plastic bag again.
By choosing Kind Bag, you’re preventing some of the devastating impacts to the environment that plastic and cotton involve, as explored above. Kind Bag saves millions of plastic bottles heading to landﬁll, eliminates the need for single-use plastic bags, protects wildlife and at the end of its life, it won’t take thousands of years to decompose.