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Was Tim Minchin right?

Friday, May 06, 2016 | Comments (0)

In 2005 Tim Minchin implored us to 'take our canvas bags to the supermarket' rather than use the free plastic bags provided. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS9ZMXPgsEc

Now Tim is a comedian and so this may be a little tongue in cheek. But a decade on, many people consider alternatives to one use plastic a significant environmental positive. So let's take a look at the alternatives and address some myths and facts.

Canvas is cotton and cotton is a dirty word

Firstly, Tim mentions that we should use canvas bags. Canvas is made from cotton and is quite thick and durable. Calico is also made of cotton, but is unbleached and not fully processed. Many people consider calico (or canvas) as the true environmental alternative.

Perhaps this idea originated in the 60's when hippies slung their calico bags over their shoulders and put flowers in their hair. But the fact is, these days, cotton is considered the 'dirty crop'. This is due to the heavy amount of pesticide used in production. Cotton crops also use huge amounts of water leading to salinity of the land it takes the water from.

Now I don't suggest that we stop wearing our cotton shirts, but there are better alternatives around, particularly for reusable bags where cost is the main priority. People like the idea of organic cotton, bamboo or RPET (recycled drink bottles), but the cost to manufacture these fabrics for reusable bag buyers is prohibitive.

Cotton alternatives

So what is the current thinking on the best alternative to those one use plastic bags that have the ability to float in the ocean and choke or starve whales, turtles and birds who mistake them for jellyfish.

NWPP or non-woven polypropylene is the original supermarket 'green bag'. It is often confused with calico and with a mouthful of a name like that, it is not hard to understand why.

Unless you have experience with NWPP you most likely refer to them as 'supermarket bags, green bags, enviro bags' or even 'those fabric bags like you get from Woolies or Coles'.

While NWPP gets bad press for being made primarily in China and 'everybody' having a cupboard full, the fact is we can say this about many of the items we consume and throw away without thinking.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

While a reusable bag is a better option than a one use, it must be used more than 20 times before it becomes a better option. It is up to the user of the bag to ensure the bag is used to the end of its life (usually more than 20 times) and then placed in the recycle bin at the nearest supermarket.

The material is then sent back overseas and melted down to make other useful items such as car fenders and flower pots.

So I guess the question is, 'what can I do to ensure my enviro bags make a difference?' rather than 'are those supermarket enviro bags eco friendly?'.

Thanks, Tim. You're right on

No doubt about it. I love my canvas bag. It has a great design, cost me 8 bucks, and lasted for ages. It's great for fruit and veg and even for the beach.

But for a cost effective, logo branded, custom designed, wholesale eco bag, I give my vote to NWPP. And take them to the supermarket, because as Tim says, 'you know you'll feel better for it'.

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