Are green bags really better for the environment?

As a nation, we're making progress towards ditching single-use plastic bags for good. But could it be the case that the bags we've used to replace them are doing even more harm to the environment?

Single-use plastic bags have a very short shelf-life, being used for an average of 12 minutes before they're discarded.

In stark contrast, they can take 1,000 years to decompose, meaning the four billion plastic bags Australians use each year, and which are likely still in existence, are polluting our oceans, waterways and harming our marine life.

Biodegradable and reusable bags are becoming more frequently used in an attempt to help save our planet, but with reports that 'green' bags - the type sold at the checkouts in many major supermarkets - could actually be worse-off for the environment, what are well-meaning consumers supposed to do?

Image: While they're often touted as a sustainable alternative to single-use bags, these types of bags are actually made from plastic

The truth about 'green' bags

A 2009 study claims that for a reusable 'green' bag to be better for the environment than a single-use plastic bag it must be used 104 times, due to the amount of material and energy required during the manufacturing process.

These particular bags are also made out of plastic, which feels counter-intuitive in the fight against plastic bags.

"It's true that the green bags we frequently see at Coles and Woolworths are made from polypropylene, which is a fancy word for plastic," Lottie Dalziel, founder of eco-marketplace Banish, explains. "But if you're going to be using a bag made of plastic, wouldn't you prefer to have one that will last for the next couple of years?"

The alternative, Lottie says, is accumulating and unethically disposing of hundreds of plastic bags. With 44 per cent of seabirds having ingested or becoming entangled in plastic, an eye-opening statistic the CSIRO believes will grow to 99 per cent by 2050, that's something we need to avoid at all costs.

"Although the environmental impact of manufacturing a flimsy single-use plastic bag is less than that of a green bag, the footprints that using hundreds of plastic bags will leave behind on the earth lasts forever," Lottie tells us.


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What bags can we use instead?

The best solution is to use bags that aren't made from plastic at all.

"Canvas bags use more water during the production process, but last longer and, as they are made from natural fibres, don't release microplastics over time," Lottie advises. "Otherwise, look for bags that are made from recycled materials."

Onya Reusable Shopping Tote, made from 100% recycled materials, $18.95 from Banish

Banish Eco-Friendly Tote Bag, $9.95 from Banish

There are plenty of other alternatives to using both single-use and green bags at supermarkets, but if you're ever stuck in a position of choosing between one or the other, we urge you to take the lesser of two evils and opt for the reusable option.

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