83 uses into a grocery bag

How long can a reusable grocery bag last?

A year or so ago, one of my oldest grocery bags needed to be retired to light duty only–at least, until I find the time to repair it. One of the handles is falling off and a seam is split. There’s a hole in one side. It definitely looks like it has been used to carry a sack of hedgehogs home on a near daily basis for the last ten years, but truth be told I’m not exactly sure when I got it.

I picked up a new bag the next time I went to the store, and hit on a great idea. Why not track how many times the bag was used until it was no longer usable? Not only would I learn how many bags I’ve kept out of landfill, but it would also help me answer some questions about how much carbon a reusable bag saves when used for its lifetime.

The picture above is that bag. As of this writing, it has been used 83 times. Despite the scratched up logo, it has little to no damage, and makes me think that it could easily be used 1,000 times or more before it is finally too worn out to be used.

The rules for this experiment are simple. Uses such as carrying library books, or any use that wouldn’t normally involve receiving a new single use bag don’t count. It has to be actually replacing a single use bag. Contents are also important. As my newest bag it carries the heaviest stuff. It’s being used like any ordinary bag, the only difference being that I mark it when ever it is used.

Why the experiment?

A 2011 study found that a bag made from recycled plastic needs to be used 11 times before it starts benefiting the environment. A cotton bag needed the most of the uses as much as 131 times before it begins to benefit the environment.

We’ve actually talked about this before on Rinexii. In certain circumstances single use plastic may be better. If you consistently forget your bags, and always repurpose those single use bags for something else (such as trash bags) it may be gentler on the planet than the reusable cotton tote forgotten in the back of your car.

What matters most is whether you use it or not, and how often. That’s where this experiment comes in. When used properly, how many times can you use a grocery bag before it wears out? Can it even be used as much as some of the most consuming reusable totes need in order to outlast their own emissions? My goal is to find out.

Back to my bag

This bag’s brand is a “Keep Cool Bag.” According to the website, their bags are made with 80% recycled plastic, so we can assume this falls under the need for 11 uses before it becomes more friendly to the planet than a disposable.

That means we have had 72 uses so far past the initial carbon footprint of making the bag. The project isn’t complete yet, but I hope to be able to link back to this post one day decades from now with a completely trashed bag and an answer for how long one of these bags can serve to help protect the environment.

The next time we make a formal post will be after a milestone visit (100 uses? First rip? Not sure yet.) Hopefully, we can get a firm answer as to the longevity of these bags, and how much good a reusable bag can do over the course of its lifetime.

I’m excited to find out with you, and excited to share my little experiment with more than just my family.

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