Are carrier bags actually environmentally friendly?

Plastic bags facts and figures

1 trillion pieces - this is the estimated annual global consumption of plastic bags. The use of plastic bags contributes to constantly growing mountains of rubbish in many parts of the world and pollutes people and the environment. Unfortunately, so far only a small part of the plastic bags used worldwide is recycled or reused. Around 90 percent end up in landfills. It can take 100 to 500 years for a plastic bag to completely disintegrate, depending on the plastic used.

Disposable plastic (polyethylene) bags

The majority of single-use plastic bags are made of the plastic polyethylene. Fossil crude oil is used as the raw material. Without subsequent recycling, polyethylene bags are not ecologically compatible carrier bags in terms of both resource consumption and climate change.

Degradable plastic bags made from renewable raw materials

Biodegradable plastic bags with a proportion of renewable raw materials are the worst type of disposable bags. For technical reasons, biodegradable plastic bags often consist of 70 percent crude oil and only 30 percent renewable raw materials. The use of biodegradable plastics cannot replace fossil raw materials. At the same time, the laborious agricultural cultivation of energy crops, which are necessary for the production of biodegradable plastic bags, has a particularly negative effect on the environment. In addition, biodegradable plastic bags from household collections are only recyclable to a limited extent and hinder the recycling of conventional plastics. According to the Federal Environment Agency, composting biodegradable plastic bags is the most environmentally harmful of all disposal methods. Composting a PLA plastic bag neither contributes to the build-up of humus, nor does it provide plant-available nutrients. The ecological balance of biodegradable bags is also worsened by the greater use of materials. Because in contrast to crude oil-based carrier bags, their bag film has to be thicker-walled in order to have the same tear resistance.

Disposable plastic bags with a high percentage of recycled content

Disposable plastic bags made of polyethylene with a recycled content of at least 70 percent have ecological advantages over all other types of disposable bags. By recycling polyethylene, the CO2 emissions during manufacture can be reduced by 45 percent. In Germany, only a very small proportion of plastic bags are collected and recycled as part of household recycling (in the yellow bin). Many plastic bags end up either as unseparated packaging waste or as garbage bags in the residual waste, so that recycling is impossible.

Disposable paper bags

Carrier bags made of paper are not fundamentally better than those made of plastic, because their production requires particularly long and tear-resistant cellulose fibers that are treated with chemicals. Paper bags are usually heavier than plastic bags because their wall thickness has to be thicker to have the same tear strength. This increases the amount of material used per bag and leads to more emissions during transport. Exception: using recycled paper and recycling it again after use can improve the environmental balance of paper bags. However, it only becomes ecologically interesting when it is used three to four times.

Reusable carrier bags made of natural fibers

In order for a reusable carrier bag to do better ecologically than a disposable plastic bag, the same applies here as with the paper bag: it must be used several times. Due to their processing and material thickness, reusable carrier bags require more material, resources and energy to manufacture. Classic materials for reusable bags, such as cotton, raffia or flax, have a high environmental impact due to their cultivation, e.g. in water and energy consumption. Therefore, cotton bags have to be reused between 25 and 32 times to perform better than polyethylene bags.

Reusable plastic carrier bags

In addition to natural fibers, reusable carrier bags are also increasingly being made from plastics. Reusable plastic bags have clear advantages over natural fibers when it comes to the provision of raw materials and production. They require fewer reuses to be more environmentally friendly than single-use plastic bags. A reusable carrier bag made of polypropylene is more environmentally friendly than a disposable bag made of polyethylene after just three uses. In addition, many reusable carrier bags are already made for the most part (up to 90 percent) from recycled material, such as old PET beverage bottles.

Collapsible, reusable polyester carrier bag

The foldable polyester carrier bag is an environmentally friendly reusable product. Usually stored in a resealable bag, it takes up no more space than a pack of tissues. This practical and hard-wearing bag can always be carried with you - it can also be loaded up to 10 kg.

How many plastic bags do we use on average each year?

If you look at the consumption of plastic bags - disposable and reusable - across Europe, Germany ranks fourth. In terms of disposable bags, it is still sixth (with 64 bags). Environmentally conscious leaders are Denmark and Finland with four disposable bags per capita per year. In contrast, Poland, Portugal and Slovakia bring up the rear with 466.

What's so bad about plastic bags?

In the EU, eight billion bags end up in nature or in the sea every year, with dire consequences. "Discarded plastic carrier bags can last for hundreds of years," warns the EU Commission. She estimates that 94 percent of North Sea birds now have plastic in their stomachs. If fewer bags were produced, one could also save energy and resources. Unfortunately, the EU paper has been significantly defused, a Europe-wide ban on plastic bags is off the table. Each state should take care of it itself.

What did the EU ministers decide?

In order to reduce the number of environmentally harmful disposable bags, the EU states are allowed to tax or even ban them. The states should also set goals so that purchases are no longer carried home so often in plastic bags. By the end of 2025, every European should use an average of 40 single-use bags per year.

What is changing here in Germany?

The federal government has not yet made a decision on how to implement the demand. A spokeswoman for Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said: "After the directive has finally come into force, we will be in dialogue Discuss possible measures to further reduce the consumption of plastic carrier bags with environmental and consumer associations, the federal states and the business community concerned. "

Will there be any exceptions?

Robust multiple bags or extremely thin bags that are used for fruit, vegetables or fresh meat are not affected. The reason: It should be avoided that more resource-intensive packaging materials are used instead.