Bring Your Own Bag: but what kind?

One of the most easiest zero-waste habits that one can build is to Bring Your Own Bag.

However, there’s always a debate about what kind of bag is the best option. Should one discard all the plastic bags in the house? Are paper bags more environment-friendly than plastic? Are cotton tote bags the best option? The questions are plenty!

To answer them, use the simple formula: Reduce your usage, Reuse a lot and Refuse to buy new.

  • All that plastic litter!

One of the most commonly used single-use plastic item is the plastic bag. Although its functional use is only for few minutes, the overall lifespan is much longer as plastic takes over 400 years to disintegrate in nature. Plastic bags always find its place in the top 10 plastic items trashed in the ocean. They don’t biodegrade and it contributes to the global waste problem. It is estimated that by 2050 there will be around 12 million metric tonnes of plastic litter in landfills and in the environment.

While plastic bags can be recycled, in a lot of cases they aren’t collected and reprocessed. As a result they clog our oceans, affect our marine life and end up in our food chains.

Solution: Try not to buy new ones as they are not healthy for the environment. Reuse the bags you already have till they wear out. Find new ways to use them (eg: repurpose them as garbage liners).

  • Paper bags are not so eco-friendly

There is a common belief that paper bags are a better option for the environment as they are theoretically made of renewable resources, unlike plastic which is derived from natural gas and petroleum. Unfortunately, that’s not necessarily right.

The manufacturing process of paper bags is a lot more resource intensive (Oh the emissions!) and that translates to deforestation and habitat damage. Granted that they can be recycled or composted, but it still doesn’t make up for the emissions in the manufacturing process. If they end up in landfills, they don’t do much better than plastic bags as paper requires ideal conditions to disintegrate and the paucity of oxygen and water in landfills makes decomposing difficult.

Solution: Avoid the use of paper bags as much as possible. Reuse and repurpose the paper bags you have. After they are worn out, ensure they are discarded in recycling or compost bins.

  • Reusable cloth bags must be frequently used

Cotton tote bags look stylish and is one of the most popular zero-waste swaps. But do keep in mind that cotton production is water intensive and cotton farming is a major polluter because of the vast amounts of pesticides used. Hence, your cotton totes need to be extensively reused to make them a good alternative to the littering-plastic and carbon-emitting paper bags.

Solution: Do not purchase cloth bags if you have no plans on frequently reusing them. Use what you already have (Remember the cloth bag you got from that conference you attended?) If you can make your own bags out of fabrics at home, then go for it!


Use your best judgement and make your zero-waste swap accordingly. Always remember the most important Rs: Refuse. Reduce. Reuse. Repurpose

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