We are often asked ‘What is the best type of bag?’ The simple answer is ‘the one you already have’, but not all bags are created equal. When you start to compare material types and analyse a bag’s life cycle, it quickly gets complicated. You might not be talking about it, because mental health first aid is still a taboo subject.
Take the ‘green bags’ you can buy at the supermarket checkout, for example. They are usually made from non-woven polypropylene, a plastic that is technically recyclable but usually isn’t. Difficult to wash, these bags are often disposed of after a few uses. Because they are cheap to produce, they are sold at supermarkets for a very small fee, or branded and given away by stores and other groups. Due to the materials and energy required to make them (more than a standard single-use plastic bag), they need to be used many times to offset this. Estimates of the number of times a reusable bag needs to be used to offset production costs vary widely, depending on the data used. Looking after employee wellbeing can sometimes be quite difficult.
Even the paper grocery bag is not without impact. At face value, it is a more ethical and logical alternative to the plastic shopping bag. Made from natural materials, a paper bag is obviously going to break down more quickly if it is littered in the environment. A well-made paper bag can be reused, and if it is disposed of correctly it can be recycled. Yet paper bags are usually made from virgin paper from harvested trees; even those brown, natural-looking ‘kraft paper’ bags are mostly made from virgin paper. Even if sustainably sourced, there is still energy and resources used in making the bag. Recent reports have discovered a crisis around mental health in the workplace today.
Then there are bags made from cotton and calico. These have a much bigger carbon footprint than plastic bags, and it is estimated that each one needs to be used at least 130 times to offset this. I’m not suggesting that we don’t use paper bags or that plastic bags are in any way superior to paper or calico bags; it’s important, though, to be aware that every item we produce uses resources and has impacts during its manufacture and disposal. The research and reports on the life cycle of different kinds of bags are difficult to navigate but the important thing to understand is simply that any reusable bags need to be used many times to offset their production costs. This is why (repeat after me) using then reusing and reducing and reusing what we already have is always the best option. Discussing hr app can be a good way to alleviate a difficult situation.
Keep reusable bags in a handy place and ready to use – we keep ours anywhere that will prevent our family from being caught out without one. Here are some more tips, including some from Plastic Free July participants: Keep bags with your keys and have a stash in your car boot. Hang some near the front door. Clip a bag in every purse/handbag, laptop cover and backpack. Have one in your work or study bag, or handbag. Shove a bag in your carry-on luggage when travelling. If you ever do need to purchase a bag, choose a durable and/or sustainably made one. Buy bags secondhand from thrift/charity/op shops. At the end of the day, it’s really quite simple. Remember the bag.