Quebec Government LCA says the conventional plastic shopping bag is not single-use, is best for environment 

MONTREALMay 9, 2018  – The first-ever Canadian scientific study of plastic shopping bags provides asserts that the conventional thin plastic shopping bag (17 micron) is the best bag environmentally and economically when compared to all other bags on the market.

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 decisionmakers 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.

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.

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.

Quebec Government LCA:

Key Findings

The LCA compared eight different shopping bags currently in use in the marketplace in Quebec.

Five ‘Disposable” bags – the thin HDPE, 17 micron plastic bag; a thin oxodegradable HDPE, 17 micron bag; a 20 micron bioplastic bag that is compostable; a thick 50 micron LDCPE plastic bag; and a kraft paper bag. Three “Reusable” bags – a woven Polypropylene bag; a non-woven Polypropylene bag; and a cotton bag.

The study is divided into three parts:

  • Part I: Environmental life cycle assessment (eLCA) of shopping bags
  • Part II: Life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) of shopping bags
  • Part III: Consequential eLCA of a ban on conventional plastic bags

LCA confirms that a Bag Ban does not Benefit the Environment

  • The conventional thin plastic shopping bag (17 microns) outperforms all other bags on human health, ecosystem quality, and use of resources. The thin plastic shopping bag 17 microns is a better environmental option.
  • The conventional plastic shopping bag outperforms reusable bags environmentally. Reusable bags have a much larger carbon footprint and must be reused many times to equal the environment impact of the thin 17 micron plastic shopping bag. They are just too resource intense.

Number of Times a Reusable Bag Must be Reused to Equal the Environmental Impact of a Thin 17 Micron Plastic Shopping Bag Used Just Once

Non-Woven Polypropylene (PP) Bag

7-11 times to match a thin 17 micron plastic bag used just once

Woven Polypropylene (PP) Bag

25-33 times to match a thin 17 micron plastic bag used just once

Cotton Bag

71-88 times to match a thin 17 micron plastic bag used just once


  • The LCA Summary points out that there is no advantage to a ban on thin 17 micron bags. “It is not clear that a ban will lead to improvements in human health, ecosystem quality and the use of fossil resources.”
  • The Summary goes on to talk about “the undesirable effects of a ban”.
  • As stated plainly in the Part 3 Draft report, “No replacement option as a result of the ban on plastic bags has an environmental advantage. In this context, the ban [on thin HDPE bags] would not be advantageous.” (Section 12 AeCV Conclusions)
  • LCA also confirms that the thin plastic bag wins economically. The conventional bag is the least expensive and reusable bags are always more expensive than the life cycle costs.
  • The Quebec Government LCA litter findings do not reflect North American litter data. The LCA used Canadian and North American data except in its litter analysis which showed that Europehas much higher litter rates than Canada. Almost every litter study conducted across North America over the past 15 years shows thin plastic bag t

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