Cotton bags are made from a renewable resource and are biodegradable. They are also strong and durable so they can be reused multiple times.
Cotton first needs to be harvested, then cotton bolls go through the ginning process, which separates the cotton from stems and leaves. Only 33 percent of the harvested cotton is usable. The cotton is then baled and shipped to cotton mills to be fluffed up, cleaned, flattened and spun. The cotton threads are woven into fabric, which then undergoes a chemical washing process and bleaching, after which it can also be dyed and printed. Spinning, weaving and other manufacturing processes are energy intensive. Washing, bleaching, dyeing, printing and other processes use large amounts of water and electricity.
To be safe, wash reusable bags in warm or hot water after shopping, which can reduce the bacteria by 99.9 percent and kill COVID-19. Only use the bags for groceries and ideally, put meats into a separate bag since meat juices left in bags can enable bacteria to grow quickly. Don’t leave reusable bags in the car because when it gets hot, bags become an ideal place for bacteria to grow.
Paper bags are made from a renewable resource and are biodegradable. In the U.S., over 10 billion paper bags are consumed each year, requiring the felling of 14 million trees.
Once the trees are cut down, the logs are moved to a mill where they can wait up to three years until they dry out. Once ready, bark is stripped off and the wood is chipped into one-inch cubes that are subjected to high heat and pressure. They are then mixed with limestone and sulfurous acid until the combination becomes pulp. The pulp is washed with fresh water and bleach then pressed into paper, which is cut, printed, packaged and shipped. As a result of the heavy use of toxic chemicals in the process, paper is responsible for 70 times more air pollution and 50 times more water pollution than plastic bag production according to a Washington Post analysis, resulting in more toxicity to humans and the environment than HDPE bags.
Whichever way you respond, you probably have your reasons. Maybe you’re planning to recycle or reuse that paper bag, or maybe you use those plastic grocery shopping bags for cleaning around the house. Maybe you think your choice, whether it’s paper or plastic, is the more environmentally friendly option. But in reality, whatever you’re choosing between paper and plastic, no matter your intentions, you’re still choosing “wrong” — because there’s a better option out there: a reusable grocery bag.
Reusable grocery bags, including drawstring bag, can be used for a lot more than carrying groceries. A nice reusable bag is essentially a structured tote bag, and can be used for many of the things you’d use a tote bag for. You can pack your lunch in them, use them to carry snacks on a road trip, take books to and from the library, etc.