Why your reusable shopping bag isn't better than a single-use plastic one

Reusable shopping bag users usually go one of two ways: Either you're the smug person sporting two over your arm as your stroll into the supermarket, or you're the frazzled one at self-checkout cursing your forgetfulness as you buy your 50th cotton bag at the checkout.

But with all the palaver about supermarkets banning single-use plastic bags this year, are their reusable counterparts even that much better? And how often do we have to use them to compensate for their much larger environmental impact?

To add to the confusion, don't even get me started on Countdown banning plastic bags, then bringing them BACK in a sturdier 15c per bag form, and now announcing they're banning all of those replacement plastic bags and bringing in paper bags instead.

So what is the answer? In this article 'Things you're doing to save the planet that are actually terrible', Vice reveals that reusable cotton tote you feel so smug about is actually polluting the air and waterways more than a plastic bags. Quoting this 2018 Danish study, reusable cotton bags are only a solution to the problem if we reuse them consistently for 11.5 years, or around 7100 times.

Anything less than that won't offset the fact that manufacturing these types of bags creates 606 times as much water pollution as making a plastic bag, the study reports.

Todd Myers, who is the environmental director of thinktank Washington Policy Centre, told Vice people should not "ignore the far more damaging, but less obvious impacts of cotton bags".

In comparison, according to the study, a paper bag needs to be reused 43 times to offset the environmental impact - but if you're using a paper bag 43 times you're taking better care of it than me. Still, reusing and recycling them afterwards is a much better option than its cotton counterpart.

Or even, dare I say it: Continue to reuse plastic bags which we all know are not single use at all.