The SCOUT team and a whole bunch of our friends are fans of a trusty tote bag. One, it’s a no fuss daily bag for most of us. Two, like a good old graphic tee, it goes with anything. Three, it’s the cheapest option for a reusable bag to keep from using those evil plastic ones again and again. Sounds about right, right? Unfortunately, we have bad news for us tote bag-bearing folks.
According to Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food, cotton tote bags are actually the worst alternative compared to plastic and paper bags. Their life-cycle assessment last year found that cotton totes use up the most resources to be made, and therefore leaves the most environmental impact. Apparently, totes made out of organic cotton use up 30 percent more resources to be made than ones made up of convential cotton, the worst of the worst in terms of environmental impact.
The study reveals that plastic bags are actually the best option. Well, the lesser of three evils, to be exact. In terms of resources used, climate change, and human toxicity, the thin, single-use low-density polyethylene (LDPE) bags came out least environmentally impactful, followed by recycled plastic, polypropelyne options, PET plastic, and then paper and cotton.
Of course, this is without taking into account plastic becoming ocean litter, which is an entirely different conversation. Plastic is definitely the worst on that scale since its material never breaks down and causes all sorts of havoc on marine life. This one’s also totally on us, because it’s very much avoidable as long as people develop discipline and stop littering on the beach. (Don’t wait for a pop icon to knock on your door just to tell you off for throwing trash in the ocean.)
So what do we do with our one tote bag at home that’s filled with more tote bags now? Well, treat it like gold and reuse it as many times as you can. At least 7,100 times, preferably. And try to avoid adding more to your tote collection. I know, this one’s easier said than done, but let’s do it for Mama Earth. And besides, we already know that the totes we have now can match literally any outfit, so let’s run with what we have for as long as we can, shall we?
Art by Tyra Monzones