From the cradle to the grave, the humble carrier bag plays a major part in our daily lives. Statistics from WRAP, the waste and resources action programme show that 10 billion lightweight carrier bags were given away in 2008. That’s about 10 bags per week per household according to DEFRA (2009). Since then single use plastic carrier bags usage has dropped by 48% (WRAP 2009) thanks to a joint initiative between the UK Government and leading supermarkets; concerns still remain though regarding the impact that plastic carrier bags have on the environment and their global warming potential because of their energy emissions and waste flows.
Eco-friendly carrier bags made out of paper or cloth and woven jute, minimise the impact on the environment. But just how do you measure environmental impact? WRAP measures everything from the amount of raw materials used in the manufacturing process, to the inks used in printing, and transport costs from manufacturer to supermarket; all these potentially damaging effects are offset by the benefits of re-use and recycling as a method of minimising environmental impact instead of dumping carrier bags as waste in landfill where plastic bags take hundreds of years to break down into the soil. Plastic bags are also responsible for the death of vast numbers of marine life, insects and wildlife.
An eco carrier bag potentially eliminates 1,000 plastic bags on average over its lifetime. The natural resource required to make 50 plastic bags is equivalent to making one eco-friendly carrier bag, making it a far better lifestyle choice than a single use, disposable plastic carrier bag.
The common carrier bag is most popularly used to carry groceries and goods so it needs to be strong enough, yet easy enough to carry by hand, without being too heavy.
The average shopping bag has a capacity of 15 litres and comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes; they can be made of many different materials, some more environmentally friendly than others, namely paper and cloth/jute. This is because the materials are easier to recycle and the materials used are biodegradable.
Cloth is also a sturdy material making it easy to reuse time and time again, lessening its environmental impact even further. Paper has the advantage of being compostable, is cheap to manufacture and is still sturdy enough to reuse several times.