Welcome to Anytown, USA, where grocery store checkout options have shifted from paper or plastic to reusable or nothing. Bans on single-use plastic bags in favor of reusable bags are on the rise.
However, bans on single-use plastics – pushed forward by special-interest lobbies and pressure politics – are backfiring and driving unintended consequences: increased use of plastic products such as garbage bags, cross-contamination from reusable bags and more significant environmental impact from alternative packaging options.
Consider this: Eco-Smart packaging – compostable and recyclable pouches, bags and films – offers the same advantages as traditional packaging but also includes earth- and health-friendly benefits.
The Untold Implications of Bag Bans
Since the bans began, researchers have found a mixed bag of results. Certainly, fewer single-use plastic bags are being produced. But the need for them has not died down. University of Sydney (Australia) economist Rebecca Taylor found the lack of bags is leaving a gaping hole in consumer habits. Instead of giving grocery bags a second (or third life) as a trashcan liner or dog waste receptacle, consumers are now purchasing trash bags. In her research, Taylor found the sale of 4-gallon-sized bags increased by 120%, 8-gallon bags by 64% and 13-gallon bags by 6%.
"So about 30 percent of the plastic that was eliminated by the ban comes back in the form of thicker garbage bags," Taylor told NPR.
In addition, cities that banned plastic bags had a surge of paper-bag use, which results in an extra 80 million pounds of paper trash a year, she said.
Indeed, other studies show similar confounding results.
- Bacteria were found in 99% of reusable bags tested
A Loma Linda University Health researcher found that most reusable grocery bags that have not been adequately cleaned and sanitized harbor dangerous bacteria, such as E. coli.
- Plastics are a more sustainable option
According to a study by the Danish government, cotton totes and paper bags have a larger cumulative environmental impact (from water use, energy use and greenhouse gases, among others) than the classic LDPE bag. When compared to a single LDPE bag, other bags must be reused multiple times:
- Organic cotton: 20,000 re-uses
- Paper: 43 re-uses
- Non-woven polypropolyene: 52 re-uses
- Paper bags are misleading and deceptive
Manufacturing a paper bag requires about four times as much water as a plastic bag, according to a benchmark study by the Scottish government. Additionally, the fertilizers and other chemicals used in tree farming and paper manufacturing contribute to acid rain and eutrophication (mineral and nutrient runoff that leads to algae growth) of waterways at higher rates.
Eco-Smart Choices for Flexible Packaging
To combat the mounting challenges with reusable bags, the plastics industry has focused on environmentally friendly, energy-efficient solutions. Great American Packaging is continually researching innovative, FDA-approved, eco-friendly films to meet customer demands and government mandates, including:
- Compostable bags and films
Fully compostable bags and films are ASTM D6400 certified, tear-resistant, sealable and freezer safe.
- All PE recyclable pouches
Multilayer recyclable stand-up pouches are a smart substitute for boxes, bags, cans and unrecyclable barrier films.
- Post-consumer recycled (PRC) pouches
PRC packaging provides superior Great American Packaging quality with the added benefit of recycled materials.
Flexible packaging manufacturers recognize the importance of Eco-Smart choices and are making positive changes for the future.
Great American Packaging’s team is always ready to assist with any package extruding, flexographic printing, converting (bag making) and consulting needs. Contact us today through the website or at 877-BUY-BAGS (877-289-2247).