If you, like many festive season shoppers, are contemplating packing groceries and shopping into cotton or paper bags rather than plastic carrier bags because it is more environmentally-friendly, think again.

“It is a myth that cotton and paper bags are better for the environment than plastic bags,” says Tim Stewart, Group Executive: Packaging at Novus Holdings.

A recent study done by the Danish Environmental Protection Agency finds that plastic bags are, contrary to popular belief, kinder to the environment than many other re-usable bags, such as cotton or cloth bags.

“This is because the entire production cycle isn’t taken into account when people assume that cotton bags are better for the environment. For example, it can take more than 20,000 litres of water to produce 1kg of cotton,” says Stewart.

The study went further to say that cotton bags have the worst impact on the environment; a cotton bag would have to be reused at least 149 times to make up for the negative production methods used to produce it.  It found that plastic bags made out of LDPE plastic, like the ones found at retailers, have by far the lowest impact on the environment. In addition, it found that plastic bags should ideally be used as a garbage bags rather than disposing of them directly as waste. Other “heavy” plastic bags made out of polypropylene, recycled PET-plastic and polyester by contrast, should always be recycled.

Ivo Vegter, an author of Extreme Environment, a book on environmental exaggeration and how it harms emerging economies, echoes these claims. He also adds that not only is plastic more convenient, it is also more hygienic. Plastic bags, historically, replaced paper bags in supermarkets because it was more hygienic and prevented bacterial contamination from meat liquids, which would soak through paper bags.

“Research by the Environmental Policy Research Unit at the University of Cape Town suggests that South Africans use about eight billion plastic bags annually. This means that plastic won’t be disappearing anytime soon,” says Stewart.

Less than 1% of 5 million single-use plastic bags are properly recycled, which is why single-use plastic is threatening the environment.  “It is up to us to use plastic bags responsibly rather than discarding it where it will end up as pollution. Using a plastic bag as a bin liner is one way that will allow it to enter the waste stream, where it is easily retrieved by recyclers.”

He adds that consumers should start by making smarter choices when it comes to how to use plastic bags. One such choice could be using a reusable plastic bag.

ITB Plastics, a division of Novus Holdings, has produced a 100% recyclable LLD plastic bag that is also washable. This bag is 100% recyclable (made with recycled material); is thicker than an ordinary plastic grocery bag (a sturdier product with added strength – robust for carrying up to 20kg) and; it can be used up to 200 times (before being handed in for responsible recycling). It can also carry frozen and wet products without disintegrating. It is also cheaper than cloth bags.

“To really look after our planet, consumers need to arm themselves with the right knowledge and facts as to what is better for the environment, and then act responsibly,” concludes Stewart.