Are cotton totes bad for the environment?

October 18, 2019
Category: TFCN,TFCN Feature
Caleb Heaton | MediaWise Teen Fact-Checker

MediaWise Rating: NEEDS CONTEXT

A video on Twitter posted by the user @scrowder says that “organic, reusable cotton bags have a lot worse of an impact on the environment than plastic bags.” In fact, the host in the video says it takes 20,000 uses of an organic cotton bag to make it even with a plastic bag’s impact on the environment. Hundreds of cities have bans on plastic bags in place and reusable grocery bags seem to be all the rage right now. So is this video actually legit? Are some reusable bags actually worse for the environment than plastic bags?

Who is behind the information?

First, we jumped off of Twitter, opened up some new tabs, and did some lateral reading to find out more about @scrowder. Even though the user is verified, it’s important to find out if they’re an expert in the field of what they’re saying online. After a quick Google search we find out the account is run by Steven Crowder who is a conservative commentator and comedian. He is currently the host of a YouTube show called “Louder with Crowder” — the video he tweeted was a clip from that show. On his show he talks about hot topics ranging from gun control to free speech. After opening up another tab, we find that he was the subject in the “change my mind” meme. Although he is verified on Twitter, and happened to be in a popular meme, Crowder isn’t the most reliable source for this information.

Do a keyword search

We then used some keywords to find a source for the original statistic on Google — it came from a news website called Quartz. The article is titled “Your cotton tote is pretty much the worst replacement for a plastic bag.” Quartz statistics claimed that 20,000 reuses are necessary to have the same impact on the environment as a classic plastic bag. Quartz sourced their information from Denmark’s Ministry of Environment and Food, based on a 2018 government study. That seems like a legitimate source for the information, but let’s take a closer look at the evidence.

Examining The Information

The study found that it takes about 20,000 uses of an organic cotton bag to have the same environmental impact of using a plastic bag. The number is based on how manufacturing each type of bag affects the ozone, water use, air pollution and other factors. But the research doesn’t account for the effects on the marine ecosystem from plastic waste, and “so as far as that gigantic problem is concerned, plastics are almost certainly the worst, since they don’t break down on a timescale meaningful to human or animal life,” according to Quartz.

Our rating

The original post by @scrowder doesn’t explain the study in detail or mention how grocery bags affect the oceans and waterways. So while the statistics he cites come from a reputable source and research, we rate this claim as NEEDS CONTEXT.