In the past there was a debate over whether cloth diapers were really environmentally better than disposable diapers. The answer: not in areas where water and energy are scarce, because rewashing cloth uses more resources (water and heat) than do plastic and cellulose production and landfill disposal.
Now the New York Times poses another environmental dilemma: cotton tote bags versus plastic bags.
“Cotton bags have become a means for brands, retailers and supermarkets to telegraph a planet-friendly mind-set—or, at least, to show that the companies are aware of the overuse of plastic in packaging.”
But even an “organic” tote whose cotton is grown without pesticides has environmental costs, the article by Grace Cook says. Cotton production requires a lot of water, totes use forced labor in China, and it’s difficult to find a place to recycle them (and if you do, many of the dyes in the totes can’t be broken down).
“An organic cotton tote needs to be used 20,000 times to offset its overall impact of production, according to a 2018 study by the Ministry of Environment and Food of Denmark. That equates to daily use for 54 years—for just one bag.”
And since it is fashionable to have a lot of totes, the impact is worse, says Cook.
Image is by Katy Anne of Unsplash.com.