Are Cotton Bags Worse for the Environment than Plastic?

Quite a hullabaloo occurred in our fair country with the enactment of a law that brings the price of a plastic bag to an almost unaffordable .10 NIS. While Jerusalem is struggling to find alternative street decorations, we at Kalpi thought that it would be interesting to go in depth on the world’s most interesting object, the plastic bag, and explain why governments around the world are turning on them. Let’s look at the numbers.

It is a little known fact (the way I judge this is that if I didn’t know it, then it is little known) that plastic is made from oil. It is even a lesser known fact that that the amount of oil needed to make a bag could power a car for 11 meters. Your average Israeli uses 275 bags a year (3025 meters).

The first country to ban small plastic bags was Bangladesh in 2002. They did so because the bags clogged the drainage system and helped to create devastating floods. India also enacted a ban in 2002 in part because cows would mistake the bags for food, showing, once again, that cows are morons. Bags also can take many years to decompose, leading to larger amounts of garbage. Many other countries, with and without cows, have followed suit in taxing or banning the use of small plastic bags.

Taxing the bags may actually be a sound market solution to the issue. Market problems arise when things that have a cost can be acquired without money, convincing people think that the object is totally free when it has some cost that effects the economy. Introducing a cost helps to reach an equilibrium. A small tax in Wales significantly reduced usage of the bags.


It could be argued that the law doesn’t go far enough. Plastic bags will still be distributed at smaller markets, where many Israelis do at least some shopping. Furthermore,  there is the crucial issue of garbage bags. Grocery bags make for ideal small garbage bags meaning that people may be willing to pay for them no matter the tax. If our goal is to lower their use, solutions for this problem must also be provided.

On the other hand, the production and transport of the cotton bags that will now be offered at supermarkets also comes with a cost. According to the British Environment Agency, a cotton bag would have to be reused 131 times in order to lower its environmental impact below that of a small plastic bag (if you ever wanted 120 pages of plastic bag reading, then that’s the link for you). In addition, some fear that long term use of cotton bags could lead to increased instances of e coli (the threat does not seem real to me).

Maybe the answer is to teach cows not to eat plastic?

6 thoughts on “Are Cotton Bags Worse for the Environment than Plastic?”

  1. Good read.

    As for the e.coli threat, people should probably wash their bags aftet they are used for raw meat, plastic milk bag, and maybe just for the fun of it every once in a while. My question is what are they gonna use the side pockets of recycling bins for if we dont habe plastic bags anymore. Maybe we should start putting tin cans there and see if it eventually gets to a recycling plant…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Among the mysteries of life in Israel:
      The recycling bins in Jerusalem for plastic bottles clearly say on the front (in Hebrew): bakbukei plastik. So why do people put all sorts of plastic (including non-bottles) and milk cartons (which are cardboard) into these bins. Is there some TV commercial (we don’t have a TV) telling Israeli consumers that it’s okay to put such items in this bin? Or are Israeli residents illiterate?


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