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Plastic bag ban: Pros and cons of reusable alternatives

June 1, 2012 |  5:42 pm

Bag Monster man
Reusable grocery bags are becoming almost as ubiquitous as the single-use plastic bags they’re designed to replace, but the choices can be overwhelming. Canvas? Nylon? Tyvek? Hemp? Any bag that’s repeatedly reused is more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic, but the greenest choice isn’t always clear. Each material has pros and cons, and ultimately the best alternative to the single-use plastic bag is the one shoppers are most likely to remember to bring to the store.

Here's a comparison of some of the most common totes, including ones made of that felt-like fabric (called nonwoven polypropylene) that is so common:

CanvasbagCANVAS

Pros: Strong. Durable. Machine washable. Renewable. Biodegradable.

Cons: Bulky. Most often made from cotton grown with high quantities of pesticides and water. Even organic cotton requires a lot of water.


HempbagHEMP

Pros: Lightweight. Strong. Durable. Machine washable. Renewable. Biodegradable. Grown with far less water and fewer pesticides than cotton.

Cons: Can’t be grown legally in the U.S., so the material is imported, most often from China.


NONWOVEN POLYPROPYLENENonwoven polypropylene bag

Pros: Widely available. Inexpensive. Strong. Soft. Lightweight. Sometimes made with recycled plastic. Can go in L.A. recycling bins. Often comes in easy-to-use, flat-bottomed shape.

Cons: Most are made in China. Non-biodegradable.


Ripstop nylon bagRIPSTOP NYLON

Pros: Compact. Extremely high strength-to-weight ratio: A 2-ounce bag can carry 50 pounds and fold to the size of a tissue pack. Water-resistant. Machine washable. Fast drying. Durable.

Cons: Can’t be recycled curbside.


TyvekbagTYVEK

Pros: Lightweight. Strong. Durable. Machine washable. Can be recycled (though not in all curbside programs). If sent to a landfill, chemicals remain inert and won’t leach into groundwater.

Cons: Made from high-density polyethylene and isn’t biodegradable.

 

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-- Susan Carpenter

Photo, top: James Alamillo plays Bag Monster before the L.A. City Council votes to ban plastic bags. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Bag photo credits: All by Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times except Tyvek bag, which is by John Gruen / Associated Press

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