You have to use a cotton tote thousands of times to make up for its environmental impact.
A few thoughts in why this and similar challenges are difficult:1. Not everyone is aligned on what the goals or criteria are (in part because different valid goals can conflict)2. The relevant frame can often be bigger than we think (more things matter and we need to zoom out); e.g., here, the food choices matter more than bag choices. 3. Quantifying effects is difficult4. The right leverage point for the solution isn’t clear. Here, I’m not sure individual choice is the right level at which we should try to effect change.
Having read dozens of these reports as both a technology analyst and an ESG analyst, it really is important to point out that there are several inaccuracies. It is definitely best to incinerate ldpe, but the reality is most plastic bags do end up in the ocean or in the ground, and even those that are in reclamation, are never properly sorted to be able to be properly incinerated in an environmentally sound incineration facility. Looking at entire life cycles, it is definitely necessary to look at reclamation, and reclaiming ldpe it's not as simple as using an oil refinery cracker. So definitely producing an ldpe bag is far cheaper and far more efficient then producing even paper bags.To also compare like to like, most of the paper reclamation is already in place, so the life cycle for paper is fairly easily sorted, in the same way that cans and plastic bottles are, but that is not the case for ldpe bags. Looking at entire life cycles means it's necessary to actually look at the entire lifecycle topographically and also in time slices to understand how the reclamation process to get to the very few and unlikely totally environmentally-sound incineration facilities are. Then if we are going to look at total life cycle across both longitudinal data sets, such as the energy that is required to build an entire ldpe facility, inclusive of the reclamation process topographically, and then inclusive of building and environmentally-sound incineration facility, then comparing that against even a totally outdated and obsolete paper mulch facility or paper recycling, that is not anywhere close to either an economic or a carbon or energy footprint comparison. taking into account advances in water reclamation in paper facilities, these numbers also look very different. In order to do true comparisons it is necessary to compare across entire time frames of generations and look at how but use cases differ across not only a product's lifecycle but the actual manufacturing, supply chain and logistics of the life cycle from inception to reclamation.
And by the way— cotton and other textiles used for clothing- same concept. We are learing more about the true cost of making all this STUFF. So now we have even more to be thinking about. Could the next target be fast fashion (or is it already?)
Ignoring the cost and impact on marine environment and long-term health consequences of micro plastics makes this a fundamentally flawed conclusion. Granted this stuff can be challenging to calculate. What is the impact of conventional agriculture on soil depletion and recovery? Is water use really an impact, since it is eternally renewable? I’m sticking with my organic cotton totes. By my calls, using one of my bags daily for 10 years has eliminated over 3500 bags from the environment (several hundred of which probably ended up in a waterway or as litter according to statistics).
I think it comes down to your priorities: reducing litter vs. reducing carbon. They're both important, and maybe there's some eggheaded effective altruist type who can make the decision for you - but I think it's a great opportunity to make up your own mind and weigh two worthy yet competing priorities against eachother.Of course, if you *already have* the tote - just use that.