It is so wonderful to see all of the action and advocay for banning single use plastics coming to fruition. This includes plastic bags, straws, water bottles and coffee cups. People out there are starting to realise how important this is and make changes. We have a very long way to go. With the announcement of Coles and Woolworths ceasing to hand out single use plastic shopping bags, the conversation about reusable bag options is ramping up. What does this plastic bag ban really mean? And what are your best choices when it comes to reusable shopping bags? We have had a plastic bag ban in South Australia for many years, yet plastic bags are everywhere…how is that so? As well, this is the tip of the iceberg. There are also the soft clingy fruit and vegetable bags, the plastic containers, meat trays with plastic wrappers and so on, that need addressing. The wider issue of packaging really needs change at a systemic level. My cynical self tends to think that these supermarket giants may very well think they have now ticked the eco box, and that it is a fabulous exercise in greenwash marketing. However small steps make for big changes.
What is happening with the plastic bag ban?
From 20 June, Woolworths have banned all single-use plastic bags from their shops across Australia. This includes Big W and the liquor store BWS. Coles will also roll out this ban on 30 June. It is estimated that each of these companies currently give out 3.2bn bags a year. Along with this there are higher level changes coming with Queensland and WA banning plastic bags from 1 July 2018. South Australia, the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania have already banned lightweight plastic bags. New South Wales and Victoria have yet to do so.
So what are they offering for your shopping?
These are the options that Woolworths will offer (and none are free):
- A 15c thick plastic reusable bag – which is ridiculous… a plastic bag ban with plastic bags being sold??? And these thicker bags will be even more of an issue in the waste stream…
- A 99c canvas bag – a reasonable option but the production is water intensive
- A $2.49 cold bag – usually made with plastic
These are the options that Coles will sell (again none are free):
- A 15c thick plastic reusable bag (ditto above)
- A $1 plastic mix tote bag (plastic)
- A $2 plastic mix shoulder bag (plastic)
- A $2.50 cold bag (ditto above)
- A $3 bag made of jute, – a vegetable fibre and a great option
What are your best options for reus able shopping bags?
The problem with reusable shopping bags is that not all of the options are actually eco-friendly. As we have had a supposed plastic bag ban in South Australia for so many years, we have become used to taking our own reusable bags, but have often discussed the issues with waste when they are broken and no longer usable. Many of the bags we currently have are not that eco-friendly, despite their ability to be reused. Many are poor quality and handles tear off, as well as the bags themselves often being flimsy.
In addition there can be a lot of energy and resources that go into making these kinds of bags. Many green bags are made with plastics and do not break down when finished with. Canvas bags are bio-degradable and durable but their production is water intensive and according to 1 million women, you have to use them 100 times to make their environmental impact outweigh single use plastic bags.
So what are the best options? The best solution is to use bags that are made of natural, sustainable fibres. Check out these ideas:
Cotton is a fabulous choice for your reusable bags. Cotton is durable and can be easily washed in the washing machine – which is a big issue for food bags. Organic cotton is the best for the environment because it uses less resources and chemicals in its processing. Recycled cotton is even better. What not take some old clothes, tea towels or other cotton materials and turn them into your own bags? We are going to try to make some of our own recycled cotton fabric bags and will share what we do soon. You can find LOTS of cotton materials at op shops that could be made into bags. You can even take a cotton t-shirt and turn it into a bag with a little bit of sewing!
Hemp is one of the most amazing plants we have on earth. It can be used for food, medicine, skin care, building, textiles and more. It is durable and fast growing, very strong and 100% bio-degradable. It grows incredibly fast and needs little, if any, insecticides and pesticides. It is one of the few crops that actually replenishes the soil as it grows, leaving it in better condition than before it was planted.
Jute is also a natural fibre that is incredibly durable. Jute is a vegetable fibre and can be spun into strong threads. It is one of the cheapest natural fibres to use and after cotton, is the most widely used. Jute has a very low CO2 footprint and a very low water footprint. It can be returned to the earth, is bio-degradable and 100% compostable. It is extremely strong, reusable for a very long time and looks fantastic! Jute bags are reusable and therefore environmentally friendly.
Tencel is one of the most environmentally friendly fabrics we have. It is made from the wood of the Eucalyptus tree, and the process to turn it into textiles is 100% organic. Organic solvents used in the process are recovered and re-used in a closed loop system. The production of Tencel is supported by new and sustainable technologies and durable farming practices. It has outstanding performance in hot climates and feels divine – it is softer than silk, more absorbent than cotton and cooler than linen. Apparently being 10 times more ecological than cotton, it uses up to 20% less water to process. No pesticides or synthetic solvents are used in the manufacturing process. The Eucalyptus trees used are sustainable and fast growing. Tencel can also be washed in the washing machine.
So there you go – the plastic bag ban that is not such a ban and some of the options you have for reducing your reliance on single use plastic bags. I would suggest you also use these kinds of options for your fruit and vegetables, and anywhere you need to carry something.