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Sustainable shopping – Which bag is best?

[Reading level: B2 – Upper Interdiate]

Americans go through hundreds of billions of plastic bags each year. In an effort to curb the number of bags being used once and then thrown away, cities around the world have instituted bans or taxes on plastic bags. But are paper or reusable bags much better for the environment? Science shows that there is not a clear answer.

 

Plastic Bags

A major advantage of plastic bags is that, when compared to other types of shopping bags, producing them carries the lowest environmental toll. The thin, plastic grocery store bags are most commonly made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE). Although production of these bags does use resources like petroleum, it results in less carbon emissions, waste, and harmful byproducts than cotton or paper bag production. Plastic bags are also relatively sturdy and reusable. Many of the studies about different bagging options that show plastic bags production demands less resources assume plastic bags are used at least twice—once coming home and once as a trash bag—and factor this into the calculations about which bags are more sustainable.

 

Plastic bags are recyclable, though few people recycle them. Recycling plastic bags is a difficult task; they fly away in the recycling plant and get stuck in machinery. Because of this, many cities do not offer curbside recycling for plastic bags. Instead, large-scale retailers offer bag recycling services. However, these services are dependent on the consumer bringing the plastic bags back to the store.

 

Bags that are not recycled end up becoming litter, because they do not biodegrade. In addition to filling up landfills and becoming eyesores, plastic bags that become litter endanger many facets of the environment, including marine life and the food chain. This is because plastic bags, like all plastic materials, eventually break up into microscopic pieces, which scientists refer to as microplastics. Microplastics have been found nearly everywhere: in marine animals, farmland soil, and urban air.

 

Though scientists have only just begun studying the consequences of microplastic proliferation, and we do not yet know their effect on animals, humans, and the environment, scientists are concerned about how this level of plastic pollution could change our planet. The studies that found plastic bags to be less harmful to the environment than paper and reusable bags did not take effects of litter into account and instead assumed that the plastic bags would be recycled or used as trash bags.

 

Paper Bags

Paper bags have some advantages over plastic bags when it comes to sustainability. They are easier to recycle, and, because they are biodegradable, they can be used for purposes like composting. However, paper is very resource-heavy to produce: Manufacturing a paper bag takes about four times as much energy as it takes to produce a plastic bag, plus the chemicals and fertilizers used in producing paper bags create additional harm to the environment.

 

Studies have shown that, for a paper bag to neutralize its environmental impact compared to plastic, it would have to be used anywhere from three to 43 times. Since paper bags are the least durable of all the bagging options, it is unlikely that a person would get enough use out of any one bag to even out the environmental impact.

 

Still, the fact that paper is recyclable helps lessen its impact. In 2018, 68.1 percent of paper consumed in the United States was recovered for recycling, a percentage that has been rising in the last decade. However, because paper fibers become shorter and weaker each time the recycling process takes place, there is a limit to how many times paper can be recycled.

 

Reusable Bags

Reusable bags are made from many different materials, and the environmental impact of producing those materials varies widely. One study from the United Kingdom (U.K.) found that, regarding bag production, cotton bags have to be reused 131 times before they reduce their impact on climate change to the same extent as plastic bags. To have a comparable environmental footprint (which encompasses climate change as well as other environmental effects) to plastic bags, a cotton bag potentially has to be used thousands of times. Materials other than cotton, however, perform much better in sustainability metrics. Nonwoven polypropylene (PP) is another popular option. Made from a more durable kind of plastic, these bags need to be reused around eleven times to break even with the impact of conventional plastic.

 

In addition to varying widely in their eco-friendliness, there is the chance that reusable bags go unused, because consumers have to remember to bring the bags with them to the store. The biggest positive of reusable bags is that their use cuts down on the amount of litter on land and in the ocean. Studies have found that bans on plastic bags in cities in the United States and Europe have decreased the amount of plastic litter in nearby waters.

 

Source: https://education.nationalgeographic.org/resource/sustainable-shoppingwhich-bag-best

WORD BANK:

curb /kɝːb/ [C2] (v): hạn chế

institute /ˈɪn.stɪ.tʃuːt/ (v): ban hành (nề nếp, quy định,…)

ban /bæn/ [B2] (n): lệnh cấm

reusable /ˌriːˈjuː.zə.bəl/ (adj): có thể tái sử dụng

major /ˈmeɪ.dʒɚ/ [B2] (adj): lớn

toll /toʊl/ [C1] (n): tác hại

commonly /ˈkɑː.mən.li/ [C1] (adv): thường

resource /ˈriː.zɔːrs/ [B2] (n): tài nguyên

petroleum /pəˈtrəʊ.li.əm/ (n): dầu mỏ

result in sth [B2] (PhrV): gây ra

carbon emissions /ˈkɑː.bən iˌmɪʃ.ənz/ (n): khí thải carbon

byproduct /ˈbɑɪˌprɑd·əkt/ (n): phụ phẩm

relatively /ˈrel.ə.t̬ɪv.li/ [B2] (adv): tương đối

sturdy /ˈstɜː.di/ (adj): chắc chắn

study /ˈstʌd.i/ [B2] (n): nghiên cứu

assume /əˈsuːm/ [B2] (v): giả định

factor sth into sth (PhrV): đưa cái gì vào cân nhắc, kế hoạch

sustainable /səˈsteɪ.nə.bəl/ [C1] (adj): bền vững

task /tæsk/ [B2] (n): nhiệm vụ

machinery /məˈʃiː.nɚ.i/ [C1] (n): máy móc

curbside recycling (n): hệ thống thu gom trực tiếp rác có thể tái chế từ các khu dân cư. Phương pháp tái chế này nhằm tách các đồ có thể tái chế khỏi dòng rác thải thông thường và đẩy nhanh quá trình tái chế chúng.

retailer /ˈriː.teɪ.lɚ/ [C2] (n): nhà bán lẻ

dependent on/upon sth /dɪˈpen.dənt/ [C1] (phrase): phụ thuộc vào cái gì

consumer /kənˈsuː.mɚ/ [B2] (n): người tiêu dùng

litter /ˈlɪt̬.ɚ/ [B2] (n): rác

biodegrade /ˌbaɪ.əʊ.dɪˈɡreɪd/ (v): phân hủy sinh học

landfill /ˈlænd.fɪl/ (n): bãi rác

eyesore /ˈaɪ.sɔːr/ (n): đồ gây chướng mắt

facet /ˈfæs.ɪt/ (n): mặt, khía cạnh (vấn đề,…)

material /məˈtɪr.i.əl/ [B2] (n): vật liệu

eventually /ɪˈven.tʃu.ə.li/ [B2] (adv): cuối cùng

microscopic /ˌmaɪ.krəˈskɒp.ɪk/ (adj): cực nhỏ

microplastics /ˈmaɪ.krəʊˌplæs.tɪks/ (n): vi nhựa

urban /ˈɝː.bən/ [B2] (adj): đô thị

consequence /ˈkɑːn.sə.kwəns/ [B2] (n): hậu quả

proliferation /prəˈlɪf.ər.eɪt/ (n): sự gia tăng

assume /əˈsuːm/ [B2] (v): giả định

when it comes to (idiom): khi nói đến

sustainability /səˌsteɪ.nəˈbɪl.ə.t̬i/ [C2] (n): tính bền vững

composting /ˈkɒm.pɒs.tɪŋ/ (n): sự ủ phân

chemical /ˈkem.ɪ.kəl/ [B2] (n): hóa chất

fertilizer/ˈfɜː.tɪ.laɪ.zər/ (n): phân bón

additional /əˈdɪʃ.ən.əl/ [B2] (adj): thêm

harm /hɑːrm/ [B2] (n): tác hại

neutralize /ˈnjuː.trə.laɪz/ (v): trung hòa

impact /ˈɪm.pækt/ [B2] (n): tác động

durable /ˈdʒʊə.rə.bəl/ (adj): bền

still /stɪl/ [B1] (adv): tuy nhiên

consume /kənˈsuːm/ [C1] (v): tiêu thụ

recover /rɪˈkʌv.ər/ [B1](v): lấy lại, thu lại

percentage /pɚˈsen.t̬ɪdʒ/ [B2] (n): tỷ lệ

vary /ˈver.i/ [B2] (v): khác

regarding /rɪˈɡɑː.dɪŋ/ [B1] (prep): đối với

comparable /kəmˈper.ə.bəl/ [C1] (adj): tương đương

potentially /poʊˈten.ʃəl.i/ [B2] (adv): có thể

perform /pəˈfɔːm/ [B2] (v): thể hiện

metrics /ˈmetrɪks/ (n): tiêu chuẩn đo lường

conventional /kənˈven.ʃən.əl/ [B2] (adj): thông thường

determine /dɪˈtɝː.mɪn/ [C1] (v): xác định

regardless of sth (idiom): bất kể cái gì

possession /pəˈzeʃ.ən/ [C2] (n): sở hữu

dispose of sth [C1] (PhrV): vứt bỏ cái gì

responsibly /rɪˈspɒn.sə.bli/ (adv): có trách nhiệm


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