Reusable Plastic Shopping Bags Are Actually Making the Problem Worse, Not Better

woman at checkout stand paying for groceries that are packed in a reusable plastic bag

Over the past few years, reusable plastic shopping bags began showing up in grocery stores in many parts of the world. They are sturdier than the flimsy plastic bags that have become a symbol of the global movement against disposable plastics, and so can be used many times, lending to their marketing as the ethical choice for the environmentally conscious shopper.

But of course, these thicker bags require more plastic to make. That means they could only improve the overall situation if they led to stores handing out overall less plastic, by volume, than they would without them—by, say, replacing thousands of single-use plastic bags a shopper might otherwise use over the years. Because no matter the style of plastic bag, it will still contribute to the global problem of forever-trash entering the environment, and the greenhouse gases associated with manufacturing the bag from fossil fuels in the first place.

But it seems they haven’t. A 2019 report from the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) and Greenpeace looking at grocery stores in the UK suggests that the plastic “bags for life” utterly failed to do the one thing they were ostensibly meant to. As of the time of this writing in 2019, the top 10 UK grocery stores reported selling 1.5 billion of these bags, which represents approximately 54 “bags for life” per household in the UK.

For comparison, the top eight UK grocery retailers—representing over 75% of the market—sold 959 million such bags in 2018. Some supermarket chains have seen particularly big spikes in sales. The frozen-food store Iceland sold 10 times more plastic “bags for life” this year, 34 million, than last.

The UK introduced a 5-pence charge for plastic bags in 2015, and the government urged shoppers to instead bring their own reusable “bags for life,” which led to a surge in purchasing of the reusable plastic bags from markets.

“Our survey reveals a huge rise in the sale of plastic ‘bags for life,’ demonstrating the inadequacy of the current policy which is clearly not providing a strong enough incentive for people to stop using ‘bags for life’ as a single-use option,” the report reads.

Food safety

Most reusable bag shoppers do not wash their bags once they return home, and the bags may be leading to food poisoning, according to Dr. Richard Summerbell, research director at Toronto-based Sporometrics and former chief of medical mycology for the Ontario Ministry of Health.[17] Because of their repeated exposure to raw meats and vegetables, there is an increased risk of foodborne illness. A 2008 study of bags, sponsored by the Environmental and Plastics Industry Council of Canada, found mold and bacterial levels in one reusable bag to be 300% greater than the levels that would be considered safe in drinking water.[18][19] The study does not differentiate between non-hemp bags and hemp bags, which have natural antimildew and antimicrobial properties.[20]

A 2010 joint University of Arizona and Limo Loma University study (sponsored by the American Chemistry Council, a trade group that advocates on behalf of disposable plastic bag manufacturers) they found that “Reusable grocery bags can be a breeding ground for dangerous foodborne bacteria and pose a serious risk to public health”.[21] The study found that 97% of users did not wash them and that greater than 50% of the 84 bags contained coliform (a bacterium found in fecal material), while E. coli was found in 12% of the bags.

Overall, those same supermarkets increased the volume of plastic packaging they put out—including the “bags for life”—by 18,739 tons (17,000 metric tons) from 2017 to 2018. “It’s shocking to see that despite unprecedented awareness of the pollution crisis, the amount of single-use plastic used by the UK’s biggest supermarkets has actually increased,” the EIA’s Juliet Phillips told the Guardian. The grocery stores’ plastic-footprint increase was caused in part by the reusable plastic bags.

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“We have replaced one problem with another,” Fiona Nicholls, a Greenpeace UK campaigner who is one of the report’s authors, told the New York Times. “Bags for life have become bags for a week.” The bags, the report says, should be banned. Instead, customers could bring their own bags to the market. “When we go shopping, we should remember our bags like we remember our phones.”

Zoë Schlanger

By Zoë Schlanger / Environment reporter

Source: https://qz.com

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References

“CTV Toronto – Reusable bags contain bacteria, mould: study – CTV News, Shows and Sports – Canadian Television”. Toronto.ctv.ca. 2008-11-27. Retrieved 2010-03-19.

#Grocerybagcrochet #PLARN #recyclingpolythene A bit of my effort in reducing the use of plastic bags. In this video I tried to show how to Crochet with Grocery Poly bags and how we can re-use poly bags to make a bag for life and can avoid buying poly bags from grocery stores. We can convert poly bags in PLARN (Plastic Yarn) and can make a stylish, beautiful looking and sturdy bag for life using these Polythenes. With a little effort and no extra cost we can make this beautiful looking (& ever lasting) bag and can pay our part in saving mother earth. 🙂

The Market For Plexiglass Is Booming–And The Nation’s Largest Manufacturer Says It’s Here To Stay

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Plexiglass is a hot item all of a sudden, as the need for social distancing and protection has increased. That’s meant a huge uptick in business for Columbus, Ohio-based Plaskolite.

The rush of calls started in mid-March. As the coronavirus pandemic logged its first thousand cases in the United States, hospitals were in desperate need of face shields for protection. So manufacturers turned to Plaskolite, the nation’s largest manufacturer of thermoplastic sheet, the glass-like material needed for the production of face shields.

“There were practically no face shields in the country; the supply was just not there, so there was a major, major rush to manufacture the product,” says Mitch Grindley, Plaskolite’s executive chairman. “Clearly, the need outweighed anything else that we were running at the time, so we took two of our plants, adjusted our lines and started cranking them out as fast as we could.”

A couple of days later, Grindley says, the rush was amplified. But, this time, it was orders for clear acrylic barrier sheets that were piling in. One of the first big orders came from Walmart, which needed the sheets installed between cashiers and customers. Coffee shops and small restaurants quickly followed suit. And all told, orders are up six-fold since March, Grindley says. “It basically has not stopped.”

Founded in 1950, Plaskolite got its start producing hula hoops and fly swatters but has since grown to be a leader in the roughly $4 billion market for acrylic sheet, also known as plexiglass. Last year the company, which is majority owned by billionaire Anthony Pritzker’s Pritzker Private Capital, did an estimated $650 million in sales. Now, with demand for its plexiglass soaring, Plaskolite’s ten manufacturing plants, which were already operating on a 24/7 basis, have ramped up production to nearly 100% of capacity—producing enough resin weekly for about 3 million face shields and enough sheet for 200,000 barriers. Even so, they’re facing a backlog of at least 15 weeks for every product they manufacture.

Demand for face shields could normalize by the end of year, Grindley says, but he’s not so sure the booming market for acrylic barriers will wind down anytime soon. In addition to the surge in demand from restaurants, retailers and offices that are slowly opening up, Grindley says more use cases and interested buyers keep popping up as nonessential businesses across the country also begin to reopen.

“Every day I come in and hear about a new application,” he says. Plaskolite is now manufacturing clear barriers installed between booths and tables at restaurants, shatterproof partitions to separate bus drivers from boarding passengers and “barrier stations” for employers to safely take workers’ temperatures at the start of shifts. The products have already made their way into retailers, casinos and courtrooms, and Grindley says he’s also received proposals for barriers between seats in movie theaters, airplanes and even dentist offices.

“It’s been a wild ride,” says Jay Smith, business director and vice president at Mitsubishi Chemical Corporation’s Lucite International, the nation’s largest producer of the chemical compound used to make acrylic glass–and Plaskolite’s exclusive supplier. Smith says the nearly complete stop in automotive manufacturing and construction had Memphis-based Lucite, which also supplies materials for those industries, initially bracing for a considerable market downturn. That quickly changed toward the end of March, when Grindley called to tell Smith of the unprecedented surge in demand for clear acrylics. “That’s when we became confident that this would be a significant shift for the market,” Smith says, “so we just started feeding the materials as fast as we could, moving barges of needed product up the Mississippi River, to Cincinnati, and then trucking it from there to the various sites that Plaskolite has.” Lucite’s sales have actually beat pre-coronavirus projections, Smith says.

Not everyone in the industry is convinced that the plexiglass boom will outlive the pandemic. France-based Altuglas, a subsidiary of competing specialty chemicals supplier Arkema, for example, says that the rising demand for its acrylic sheet is only enough to help offset declines in other segments, and that while it’s operating at capacity for these products, it doesn’t yet believe the market is sustainable enough to warrant increased investment in new lines. “I believe what we see today is the simultaneous requests of all the potential users… I think we see the peak,” says Altuglas chief Jean-Luc Béal. “We are just using our capacity to help weather the market, even if this area of the market is not the strategic area we tend to be in historically.” In late March, Arkema withdrew its 2020 EBITDA guidance, which was in line with last year’s figure of roughly $1.6 billion (1.5 billion euros). “In this fast-changing environment, this guidance is no longer relevant,” the firm said in a statement at the time.

Plaskolite’s longtime chief is less worried about the demand. “I think this is very similar to September 11 and what happened in security in airports; I see it as something that’s here to stay,” says Grindley, adding that Plaskolite is already working on a second generation of antimicrobial and scratch-resistant barriers. “Frontline workers are demanding it, consumers are demanding it, so this is something that people better get used to because it’s going to be around.”

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I’m a reporter at Forbes focusing on wealth and finance. I graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I double-majored in business journalism and economics while working for UNC’s Kenan-Flagler Business School as a marketing and communications assistant. Before Forbes, I spent a summer reporting on the L.A. private sector for Los Angeles Business Journal and wrote about publicly traded North Carolina companies for NC Business News Wire. Reach out at jponciano@forbes.com.

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