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Plastic Bags No Great Environmental Evil

22 February 2011

The Environment Agency today dispelled many wrong notions surrounding thin plastic carrier bags when it reported that they actually carry the lowest carbon footprint. This comes as a welcome relief because of its large-scale use and the fact that they are no longer tagged "a great environmental evil. "

The report, Life Cycle Assessment of Supermarket Carrier Bags, highlights the fact that a cotton shopping bag has to be re-used at least 131 times to have less environmental impact than a single-use plastic bag, which is one of the key findings of the study that underpins the overall impact as directly proportional to the number of times it is used. The single use carrier bags also have an added benefit in terms of consuming less resources and energy in its production.

According to the Agency's spokesperson "A significant part of the environmental impact of these bags is associated with the resources used in their production. All multi-use bags need to be reused as much as possible to reduce their relative environmental impact and be responsibly recycled at the end of their life."

Between the years 2006 and 2010, retailers aggressively worked towards decreasing bag usage by introducing bags-for-life and encouraging customers to re-use them. Their efforts paid off with the period seeing customers slashing their bag use by 4.6 billion.

The British Retail Consortium (BRC) reacted strongly by stating that the continuing focus on plastic bags is a damaging distraction from more important environmental issues. BRC Sustainability Director, Andrew Opie said: "We're pleased to see the Environment Agency's report acknowledge single-use carrier bags can have less impact than the alternatives. Yes, the plastic bag has become symbolic but this report confirms it is not the great environmental evil some would have us believe."

He further stated: "Agonising over bags misses the point. There are much bigger targets supermarkets are helping customers to work on, such as reducing food. To obsess over bags distracts consumers from making bigger changes to their habits which would do more to benefit the environment."

Krishna Buddhiraju