Are Plastic Bags Environmentally Friendly?

It may seem counterintuitive, but of all options for retail checkout bags, traditional HDPE and LDPE plastic bags come out on top. 

Plastic bags are 100% recyclable and most people reuse checkout bags for a wide number of things. From garbage bags for small trash cans, to picking up pet waste, using as travel laundry bags, or even reusing when shopping.  Studies show that "green" alternatives such as paper bags and popular reusable bag options, can actually be worse for the environment because they require more resources to produce and transport. These replacements simply have a larger carbon footprint when the entire product lifecycle is considered. Studies also show that bag bans and taxes haven’t meaningfully reduced overall litter or waste anywhere they’ve been tried. 

Every bag ordinance allows for, or even encourages, paper bag usage. But compared to plastic bags, paper can't compete environmentally. Making plastic bags requires 70% less energy and 96% less water than paper, and creates far less air pollution. Most store-bought "reusable" bags are made in other countries and shipped across the world to the US, while the vast majority of plastic checkout bags are made domestically. And those imported reusable bags may not be recyclable. Cotton bags would need to be used for over 7 years before they become a better choice than plastic. Cotton bag manufacture is also a very intense process, that involves vast amounts of water to grow and process the cotton, and potentially dangerous fertilizers and pesticides.  

The most talked about impact of plastic bags is litter, especially in marine environments. Obviously, this is a large problem, but it isn't likely to be solved by bans and restrictions on plastic bags. Studies have shown that bag restrictions have not resulted in any waste or litter reduction.  As a matter of fact, due to the heavier materials used in paper and reusable bags, landfill waste has increased. Without the availability of lightweight carryout bags, people instead purchase new, packaged bags for garbage, pet waste, and other uses. And reusable bags simply can't hold up to the usage required to be a better choice. 

Simply put, bans and restrictions on plastic carryout bags result in higher levels carbon entering the atmosphere, more waste going to landfills, and have no impact on litter. 

If you need bags in areas that have restrictions, our reusable bag options can be made to specifications that meet the requirements of most ordinances

For more detailed information about the impact of bag regulations, and links to studies, please visit the Bag the Ban website 

American Plastic Mfg., Inc. |  526 South Monroe St, Seattle, WA 98108

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