It would appear that some government agencies in the world are taking a good hard look at the environmental impacts of plastic bags, and are finding some surprising answers. A UK Environment Agency has discovered that they are not “eco villains” at all.  In fact:

HDPE Plastic Bags are, for each use, almost 200 times less damaging to the climate than cotton hold-alls favoured by environmentalists, and have less than one third of the Co2 emissions than paper bags which are given out by retailers.

Now this sort of commentary always makes me curious. How do they assess these sorts of figures? The article would go on to say:

The report set out to find out which of seven types of bags have the lowest environmental impact by assessing pollution caused by extraction of raw materials, production, transportation and disposal.

It found that an HDPE plastic bag would have a baseline global warming potential of 1.57 kg Co2 equivalent, falling to 1.4 kg Co2e if re-used once, the same as a paper bag used four times (1.38 kg Co2e).

A cotton bag would have to be re-used 171 times to emit a similar level, 1.57 kg Co2e.

Interesting? Yes. But the most interesting finding from the report would be it’s conclusion:

The researchers concluded: “The HDPE bag had the lowest environmental impacts of the single use options in nine of the 10 impact categories. The bag performed well because it was the lightest single use bag considered.”

Now I hate litter as much as the next person. But we really need to have a think about the what our objective should be when pursuing our nation’s environmental policies. And for heaven’s sake – lets please stop demonising the use of plastic bags! When they were first introduced – the plastic bag was the environmentally friendly answer to paper, because we didn’t have to chop down any more trees!