Fashion statement, talking point, environmental saviour, pollutant, profit-maker - or all of the above? The majority of these so-called ‘green’ bags are made from non-woven polypropylene, a form of plastic polymer, that requires about 28 times as much energy to produce as the plastic used in standard disposable bags, and eight times as much as a paper sack. What’s the attraction? Well, for starters, they are free. Something for nothing is always popular. Plus, we are often given them without asking, which means that you have to be an active resister to avoid them. Then there’s the fact we are likely to forget to bring our own.
But not all eco bags are created equal. According to Rebecca Hosking, the BBC wildlife camerawoman behind the banning of plastic bags in the Devon town of Modbury, some are not even deserving of the title “eco”. Broadly speaking, she supports the use of any bag that lasts – saving on energy and materials – but she says we should also consider how the material has been grown, harvested and manufactured. “Otherwise, the lovely new eco bag that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling when you use it could have caused more harm in its production than you think.”
The other thing to watch is price. “It is incredibly hard to find environmental goods that are cheap,” she says. “If the price sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.”