Quebec study defends plastic shopping bags as not single-use

Conducted by the Government of Quebec, the Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) found that no replacement option has an environmental advantage in the event of a ban on plastic shopping bags.

A Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) is a cradle-to-grave analysis that assesses the environmental impacts associated with all stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through manufacture, usage and how it is managed at end of life.

The Quebec Government wanted to provide decision-makers with an impartial, trustworthy, third-party scientific analysis of plastic shopping bags using Canadian and North American data so policymakers can make informed decisions on which bag is the best for the environment.

“Governments across Canada now have home-grown science they can trust to guide decision-making on bags,” says Joe Hruska, Vice President of Sustainability at the Canadian Plastics Industry Association (CPIA).  “As an industry, we welcome the Quebec Government LCA findings. They are completely in line with a Government of Denmark LCA which was just made public and at 2011 U.K. Government LCA.  All LCAs show scientifically that a ban on plastic shopping bags will actually harm the environment.”

The most interesting study finding is that the conventional, thin plastic shopping bag is not a single-use bag because it has a very high reuse rate at 77%. The most common reuse is to manage household waste. Banning of the conventional plastic bag, according to the LCA scientists, will lead to the consumption of even more plastic and the manufacture of garbage bags; kitchen-catcher type bags which are 76% percent thicker.


“This LCA shows that bag bans are not needed in Canada because plastic bags are well-managed by consumers and retailer,” says CPIA’s Hruska.  “Canadians are deeply committed to responsible use and the 3R’s. Ironically, reusable bags, the replacement option advocated by some to replace conventional bags, have a much larger carbon footprint and global warming potential.

The industry which also makes reusable bags points out that people are not aware that reusables bags are not recyclable in North America and at the end of their life, they end up in landfill as garbage while thin plastic shopping bags are highly recyclable. As the Quebec LCA proves the conventional bag is a multi-use, multi-purpose bag while the reusable bag is a single-purpose bag. The LCA report also shows that because reusable bags are very resource-intensive, they must be reused multiple times to equal the environmental impact of the plastic shopping bag used just once.

Hruska adds, “The bag industry believes that every decision made in the name of the environment should be based on science and fact. Too often decisions on bags are made because it sounds good. All too often decision-makers do not assess or decide to ignore the negative unintended consequences which end up causing environmental harm.”