Reusable Bags vs. Plastic Bags

Youth Climate Action Team Inc.
3 min readJul 18, 2023

The population of the entire world uses more than 5 trillion plastic bags per year, which is equivalent to 160,000 plastic bags per second and 700 bags a year per person. The debate between reusable bags and plastic bags continues, with valid arguments on both sides. The true question is not “Which one is better?”, but rather “Why is one better than the other?” As concerns about pollution, waste management, and climate change continue to grow, it is essential to understand the pros and cons of these bag options.

Reusable Bags

Reusable bags tend to offer a more sustainable alternative as they are made from materials like cotton, canvas, jute, or recycled plastics; these bags have longer lifespans and can be reused multiple times. By encouraging the use of reusable bags, the demand for single-use plastic bags decreases, subsequently reducing the overall production of plastic waste. In fact, each reusable bag has the ability to eliminate the use of 1,000 plastic bags over its lifetime.

Although many reusable bags are manufactured using eco-friendly processes, it is important to consider the environmental impacts of some of the materials used. Cotton bags, for instance, require significant amounts of water and energy during production. The use of organic or recycled materials can mitigate these impacts to some extent. Additionally, the transportation and disposal of reusable bags also contribute to their overall environmental footprint.

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags have become ubiquitous in our daily lives due to their convenience and affordability. However, their production relies heavily on fossil fuels, increasing greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Additionally, they are notorious for their durability and resistance to decomposition, leading to long-lasting litter in landfills, water bodies, and natural habitats. Once plastic bags are in a landfill, they may take up to 1,000 years to fully degrade. These bags’ improper disposal poses a severe threat to wildlife as animals often mistake them for food or become entangled in them, resulting in injury or death. Plastic bags also contribute significantly to marine pollution, with an estimated eight million metric tons of plastic ending up in the oceans every year.

Comparing the Two

When considering the environmental impacts, reusable bags tend to have a lower overall impact compared to plastic bags. However, the specific circumstances of usage, materials, and disposal methods can influence this comparison. Reusable bags must be used multiple times to outweigh the environmental impact of single-use plastic bags. Consumers can maximize the environmental benefits by adopting reusable bags into their daily routines, ensuring they are used as intended and properly disposed of when they reach the end of their life cycle.

“Life cycle studies done in Europe and North America have determined that, overall, plastic bags are better for the environment than paper or reusable bags unless the latter are used many times. Most, however, did not consider the problem of litter, which we know is a major drawback of plastic bags,” according to an article by the Columbia Climate School.

The environmental impacts of reusable bags and plastic bags differ significantly. While plastic bags contribute to pollution, waste, and harm to wildlife, reusable bags offer a more sustainable alternative. By reducing the demand for single-use plastics, reusable bags help mitigate the detrimental effects of plastic waste on our planet. However, it is crucial to be mindful of the materials and manufacturing processes used in reusable bag production, as well as their proper usage and disposal. Ultimately, making conscious choices and encouraging widespread adoption of reusable bags can significantly contribute to a cleaner and greener future.



Youth Climate Action Team Inc.

501(c)4 youth movement bridging the gap between non-climate groups & intersectional climate action.