We’ve all been there: in line at the grocery store, a week’s worth of food on the conveyor belt, and you realize you’ve forgotten your reusable bag at home. Maybe the plastic bags vs. reusable bags question has been settled in your household, and you almost always bring your reusable bags with you shopping. Or maybe you haven’t heard much about the plastic bags vs. reusable bags debate, and don’t rely primarily on reusables for your shopping needs.

plastic bags get in trees

“Have you brought your own bag from home?” The clerk asks you. If you answer “no,” you’ll be asked next if you would like a paper or plastic bag. Which begs another question: where do paper bags fall in the plastic bags vs. reusable bags debate? And what effect does using a reusable bag really have? If you don’t currently use reusable bags during the majority of your shopping trips, or aren’t sure exactly why reusable bags are important, here are five reasons to remember your reusable bag every time you go to the store.

1. The Ocean


Stories of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch have become ubiquitous, and horrifying reports of the effects that plastics are having on marine life and the health of our oceans have become widespread. What isn’t as widely considered is the role that plastic bag use plays in the ocean’s pollution.

In the densest ocean garbage patches, every square mile of sea has approximately 46,000 pieces of floating plastic lurking near the water’s service. Marine life, including birds and surface feeding fish, routinely mistake this floating plastic for food, a deadly mistake. And with their light structure and lack of biodegradability, plastic bags are a prime offender, and a major pollutant to the earth’s sea surface.

2. The Atmosphere


If the health of the oceans doesn’t concern you much, there are still lots of enviromental reasons to choose reusable in the plastic bags vs. reusable bags question. Plastics in all their forms contribute to the proliferation of greenhouse gasses and damage the atmosphere.


Most plastic bags are manufactured through a process that burns off natural gases, and produces CO2 as a byproduct. The Carbon that arises as a byproduct of plastic bag production contributes to global warming, damages the atmosphere, and causes a plethora of related environmental problems.

The other major issue with plastic bags and the atmosphere is that the light wieght bags can get caught up in a wind current and end up someplace unxepexted like a river, creek or the ocean.

3. The Law


While you won’t get a ticket any time soon for using plastic bags, many cities and municipalities have recently taken steps to outlaw their use. Grocery stores in cities with “plastic bag bans” can sell consumers paper bags, usually for a dime each, but can’t hand out free plastic bags anymore. Even if there is no plastic bag ban in your city yet, you can get ahead of the plastic bag vs. reusable bag question by switching to reusable today. Laws banning plastic bags are spreading, so it’s a good idea to get accustomed to using reusable bags ASAP.

4. The Math.


If you do a quick analysis of the real damage that plastic bags cause, the math indisputably favors reusables. While cotton bags need to be used more than 100 times in order to be a better environmental choice than plastic, polyethylene bags need to be used only four times and polypropylene bag must be used only 11 before they are the right choice mathematically.

Turning back to where paper falls in the plastic bags vs. reusable bags question, the numbers strongly support reusables over paper options as well. While paper bags are much more biodegradable than plastic, and won’t cause the same deadly toll to our oceans, their production still has a negative impact on the atmosphere, and raises other environmental concerns. About ten billion paper bags are used in the US every year, and that’s a lot of trees. Reusable bags are a good choice over paper as well as plastic, due to the sheer volume of deforestation needed to support paper bags.

5. You can make a difference


If all of the stats and facts above have you feeling hopeless about the effect of plastic bags on the environment, fear not. One of the biggest reasons why reusable bags are the right choice in the plastic bags. vs. reusable bags conundrum is that you can make a real difference by choosing reusable.

If you buy four polyethylene bags to use every time you go to the grocery store, the reusable bags will be a better choice than plastic as far as the environment is concerned within a month. And if you remember your reusable bags every time you go to the store, and visit the grocery on average once a week, you will use about 200 less plastic bags per year. That’s a big difference for a small change in your life, and one of the biggest reasons why you should choose reusable over plastics. You can make a difference!

Posted By Mark Contorno

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