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Is it eco-friendly if you reuse grocery bags as trash bags?

Grocery bags and other single-use plastics are frequently used as trash prevention symbols. Despite their reputation, these materials aren't always as wasteful as many customers might believe. A recent survey found that many people have the same beliefs about how using plastic bags and other consumer activities actually damage the environment.

According to Shelie Miller, professor of sustainable systems at the University of Michigan and research author, "Single-use plastic is one little piece of moving towards sustainability." Miller addresses five myths regarding the effect of this everyday substance in the new paper, which was published this week in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.

Miller conducted the study using a method known as life cycle assessment, which assesses the environmental effects of each stage of a product's existence from conception to disposal in a number of categories. She cited the following five key findings: First, that a packaged item typically has a greater environmental impact than the packaging itself; second, that plastic doesn't always have the greatest impact of any packaging material; third, that reusable products aren't always preferable to single-use; fourth, that recycling and composting are the sustainability practices that most deserve our attention; and finally, that many zero waste initiatives actually exacerbate the issue.

Some of these problems are reasonable: For instance, reusable items only reduce waste if they are used frequently enough to be useful. Take tote bags, Miller advises. We are aware of how much people enjoy and desire to reuse them. However, we also know that a lot of individuals don't use their totes frequently enough to make up for the fact that they use more material than plastic grocery bags.

Others have less good judgment. For instance, Miller discovered that, when examining a range of categories, the environmental impact of a product as a whole only accounted for roughly 10% of it. Even with regard to food, which many of us consider to be a fleeting resource, that was nonetheless the case.

The key is to buy less when you can and with purpose. Conscious consumerism is truly the first priority, according to Miller. Waste, which is the worst problem of all, is avoided as a result. The difference between the environmental impact of meal kits and grocery-store dinners is one illustration of this practice's stranger elements in action. Miller and colleagues discovered last year that meal kits, despite all of their packaging, resulted in users throwing away less food compared to when they went grocery shopping.

This study, according to the author, "really tried to put [that finding] into a bit more context." Even while we don't want to worry about single-use plastics, we often fail to see the bigger picture.

Her research indicates that prioritizing simply eating less of everything is a more beneficial thing for your household to be doing. This is in contrast to putting all of your work towards recycling, composting, and reusing.

However, the problem goes beyond only customers. The amount of solid trash that we produce as individuals is merely the tip of the iceberg, according to Miller. A key component of creating a sustainable society, according to her, is to keep pushing for change on a social level to guarantee that everyone has access to food and that those corporations that pollute are held accountable.

Ironically, although being a little misleading, the fight against single-use plastics is an example of concerned people striving to actually change a situation. Miller asserts, "We shouldn't get rid of that." We simply need to widen that idea even more.

Decide whether you can reuse your bags the nearly 200 times that would genuinely justify their existence or whether your limited time and energy would be better used in the effort to create a world that is more just and environmentally sustainable. You may be surprised at the solution.

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