Carbon footprint of shopping (grocery) bags in China, Hong Kong and India

Subramanian Senthilkannan Muthu, Y. Li, J. Y. Hu, Pik Yin Mok

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Carbon footprint has become a term often used by the media in recent days. The human carbon footprint is professed to be a very serious global threat and every nation is looking at the possible options to reduce it since its consequences are alarming. A carbon footprint is a measure of the impact of human activities on earth and in particular on the environment; more specifically it relates to climate change and to the total amount of greenhouse gases produced, measured in units of carbon dioxide emitted. Effort of individuals in minimizing the carbon footprint is vital to save our planet. This article reports a study of the carbon footprint of various types of shopping bags (plastic, paper, non-woven and woven) using life cycle impact assessment (LCIA) technique in two stages. The first stage (baseline study), comprised the study of the impact of different types of shopping bags in the manufacturing phase, without considering their usage and disposal phases (cradle to gate stage). The LCIA was accomplished by the IPCC 2007 method, developed by the Inter Panel on Climate Change in SIMAPRO 7.2. The GWP (Global Warming Potential) values calculated by the IPCC 2007 method for 100 years were considered as a directive to compare the carbon footprint made by the different types of shopping bags under consideration. The next stage was the study of the carbon footprint of these bags including their usage and disposal phases (cradle to grave stage) and the results derived were compared with the results derived from the baseline study, which is the major focus of this research work. The values for usage and end-of-life phases were obtained from the survey questionnaire performed amongst different user groups of shopping bags in China, Hong Kong and India. The results show that the impact of different types of shopping bags in terms of their carbon footprint potential is very high if no usage and disposal options were provided. When the carbon footprint values from different disposal options were compared, the carbon footprint values were lower in the case where a higher percentage of reuse is preferred to recycling and disposing to landfill. The results indicate that a higher percentage of reuse could significantly scale down the carbon footprint. Once the shopping bags reached the point where they can no longer be reused, they must be forwarded to recycling options, rather than being disposed to landfill. At this juncture, consumer's perceptions and behaviours in connection with the respective government's policies in promoting & facilitating recycling systems could be critical in reducing the carbon footprint of various shopping bags.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)469-475
Number of pages7
JournalAtmospheric Environment
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2011


  • Carbon footprint
  • Disposal to landfill
  • IPCC 2007
  • Life cycle impact assessment
  • Non-woven bags
  • Paper bags
  • Plastic bags
  • Recycle
  • Reuse
  • Woven bags

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science
  • Environmental Science(all)

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