Eco-Impact of Plastic and Paper Shopping Bags

Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, Yi Li, J Hu, P Mok, Xuemei Ding, Yi Li
Journal of Engineered Fibers and Fabrics   unpublished
This article describes the study of the eco-impact of plastic and paper bags using the life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) technique under three different options: usage and disposal criteria with the existing usage behavior to reuse and governmental policies to recycle (option1), usage and disposal criteria as per consumers' perceptions if systems are in place (option2) and usage and disposal criteria in case of absence of recycling systems (option3). The first stage, which was the baseline
more » ... was the baseline for other options, comprised of the study of the eco-impact of plastic and paper bags in the manufacturing phase, without considering the usage and disposal phases. LCIA was performed by the Eco-indicator 99, a damage oriented method for LCIA in SIMAPRO 7.1. The single score values calculated by the Eco-indicator'99 were considered as a directive to compare the environmental impact made by plastic and paper bags and a detailed explanation of the results is provided in this article. The next stage was the study of the eco-impact of these bags including their usage and disposal phases. This was undertaken with the three different options as stated above and the results derived were compared with the results derived from the baseline study, which is the main focus of the study under discussion. The values for usage and end-of-life phases were obtained from the questionnaire survey of different user groups of shopping bags in China, Hong Kong and India. The results of this study show that the eco-impact of plastic and paper bags was very high if there were no usage and disposal options provided. When the eco-impact values from options of existing possibilities and consumers' perception were compared, the eco-impact value was lower in option 1 in all the three countries for both types of bags, which is mainly attributed to the fact that in option 1, a higher percentage of reuse is preferred to recycle and disposal to landfill categories. Also the eco-impact of these two types of bags was studied with and without the presence of recycling systems in China, India and Hong Kong, where the eco-impact was lower due to the presence of recycling systems. The results indicate that a higher percentage of reuse could significantly trim down the eco-impact of plastic and paper bags. Consumers' perceptions and usage behaviors in connection with respective government's policies and implementation of recycling systems could be highly decisive in reducing the eco-impact of plastic and paper shopping bags.