Lately, I have been hearing about people questioning whether reusable bags are really better than single use plastic bags for the environment. So, I thought I would take the opportunity to present some facts about the issue.

When you look at the impacts of plastics, you need to look at the entire process from extraction of the resources used to make the bags, to the end of its lifecycle.

Extraction –  Plastics are made from fossil fuels, petroleum and/or gas, usually fracked gas.

We all the know the devastating impact this extraction of fossil fuels has on the planet. We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground if we are ever to combat climate change.

Manufacturing – Fossil fuels are then heated to make the plastic, emitting toxic chemicals into the air.

These manufacturing facilities are often in low income and front line communities.  The air pollution contributes to asthma, and other lung diseases, as well as to higher cancer rates and other major health conditions, in addition to climate change.

There are other health issues related to plastics.  They are endocrine disrupters, and are in our bodies, in the bodies of infants and children  and even in breast milk. We ingest about a credit card’s worth of plastic each week.  But, I digress and  the health impacts of plastic  is another topic for a blog.

Disposal – Less than 15% of plastics gets recycled, and for the majority of what little does get recycled it is downcycled, and therefore cannot be used again. The rest winds up in our oceans. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Latest studies have reported that remote areas are experiencing plastic in the air coming from the oceans.  It is sent to landfills which pollute our soil and water and to the incinerators where they are burned creating toxic fumes and air quality issues, as well as climate change.  It is sent to other countries, who may not have the facilities to recycle or dispose of our plastic waste properly.

Fossil fuel companies are investing heavily in plastics, as they see the writing on the wall, The demand for fossil fuels will hopefully continue to diminish as more renewable energy becomes a reality. From more electric vehicles, to more solar and wind as our resources for power, which is the hope for our future.

The fossil fuel and plastics companies are engaging and supporting many lobbying groups, such as the American Chemistry Council, and are very adapt at promoting a spin on the facts about plastic and its environmental impacts. They are experts in causing doubt about the efficacy of science, much as the cigarette industry has done.

Although plastic wrapping, single use bags, and packaging never really leave our environment, they have a useful life of minutes.

Yes, fabric reusable bags take energy and resources as well.   But, they last for years, not minutes, they are not made from fossil fuels, they can be repurposed, or composted, and are not causing the havoc and disastrous effects that plastic does.

So, the next time you hear someone doubt that reusable bags are better for the environment, ask them where they got their information.  And then, see if you can find out who paid for the study or the report they are quoting.  You might be surprised where some of the “information” is coming from.

Helene Shore