Which of these materials has the least environmental impact: paper, biopolymer, cotton, conventional plastic or TDPA™ plastic?

The environmental impact of a range of bag materials (including HDPE, LDPE, biopolymer (starch-polyester), non-woven PP, paper & cotton bags) was assessed, concluding that HDPE bags have the lowest overall environmental impact.

Although alternative materials to plastics, such as paper, cotton and biopolymers, are frequently touted as being more environmentally-friendly options, they all had a greater overall environmental impact and global warming potential than conventional plastic bags. Paper, non-woven PP and cotton bags have to be re-used 4, 14 and 173 times respectively for their global warming potential to be less than that of HDPE bags (assuming only 40% of HDPE bags are re-used as bin liners). Greater re-use of HDPE bags further reduced their environmental impact.

This study did not consider the impact of inadvertent littering. As TDPA™ bags that have escaped into the open environment can degrade, whereas conventional plastic bags cannot, TDPA™ technology likely further reduces the environmental impact of carrier bags.