When we talk about “Why we should use reusable bags?”, there are a lot of reasons to go green with reusable bags. Reusable bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic bags and paper bags, with lower costs, many countries encourage consumers to use recycling bags, because reusable bags can avoid some of the cost on single-use plastic bags recycling programs. Reusable grocery shopping bags often have a large volume to hold more groceries, they look fashionable and stylish, with various styles, reusable grocery bags are easy to large-scale promotion.
Our ever-increasing use of disposable plastic bags is resulting in enormous issues globally, including climate change, pollution, tremendous harm to natural habitats and wildlife, and harm to human health.
Discarded plastic bags have been found as far north as the Arctic Circle and as far South as The Falkland Islands. Light-weight plastic bags are the debris most likely to fly away from landfills, settling instead in trees, storm drains and oceans.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable and hence do not decompose easily. Such bags are at risk of photo degradation and light exposure dissolving them into toxic polymer particles. This toxicity contributes towards the land degradation of the environment.
There lies a spot somewhere in the center of the Pacific Ocean. This spot appears as a new continent with no wind, no life except planktons. This continent is a giant swirling mass of plastic waste. For every pound of plankton, there are at least 6 pounds of non-biodegradable plastic. This patch in the Pacific Ocean is perhaps the best representation of the destruction and harm, we humans are doing to our planet Earth.
It is high time to transition to alternative sources to alleviate the harmful impact of plastic bags on the environment. One such attempt is to ditch plastic bags altogether and use reusable bags.
In many countries, the grocery stores, supermarkets and general stores are encouraging customers to bring their own reusable bags by offering an incentive (example, free item, small discount, or stamp on a loyalty card).
The options for reusable bags include
Bag options include:
- For prolonged use – insulated cooler bags
- Woven and non-woven polypropylene
- PET – reusable bags made of polyethylene terephthalate
- Cotton shopping bags
- Canvas grocery bags
- LDPE – heavy-weight shopping bags made of low-density polyethylene
- Light-weight synthetic fabric bags
Customers are also encouraged to choose shopping bags with a high percentage of recycled content. This ensures a reduction in environmental effects and helps create demand for recycled products.
How reusable bags can reduce the environmental footprint?
The reusable bags can contribute towards reducing environmental harm done by the plastic nuisance. The heart of plastic bag manufacturing is the use of petroleum, refined from fossil fuels. The quantity of petroleum used to create 14 plastic bags is enough to drive a car 1 mile. The creation of reusable bags means fewer fossil fuels.
In terms of sustainability, reusable/recyclable are eco-friendly and biodegradable if used to its fullest potential. Over a lifetime, the use of reusable bags by just one person would save over 22,000 plastic bags. The life span of an average reusable bag is around 700 disposable plastic bags.
Throwing away under-utilized or unused items is a waste of resources, so do not just buy a reusable shopping bag – make use of it, reuse it… then use it some more.
Many nations have banned the use of single-use plastic bags and shifted to reusable/recyclable shopping bags to reduce the harm to our oceans and the environment. Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002. Israel, Mauritania, South Africa, the Netherlands, Vanuatu, Kenya, Rwanda, China, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Papua New Guinea, Georgia and Albania have since implemented similar bans.
Types of reusable bags
1. Cotton bags
Cotton shopping bags are the most common reusable bags manufactured with natural fibres. A Cotton shopping bag could be made from 3 types of cotton – Traditional cotton, Organic cotton, Recycled cotton.
a. Traditional cotton is created from a crop source that is renewable, but needs pesticides and chemicals. Another downside is that huge amounts of water are required for growth.
c. Recycled cotton is made of traditional cotton and reclaimed organic cotton “scrap”. This scrap is used for twisting fibres (spinning) it into new yarn.
b. Organic cotton is grown without using any toxic chemicals and pesticides. This is the best cotton for making reusable bags as it is helpful in alleviating the negative environmental footprint of cotton production.
To match the reliability, effectiveness and efficiency of using a shopping bag made of plastic just once, each reusable bag made of cotton must be reused 131 times to compensate for its large global warming/carbon footprint potential.
To sum up, reusable bags made of cotton are eco-friendly only if they are used a thousand of times to make up for their environmental impact.
2. Calico Reusable Bags
Calico is a plain-woven textile, made from not fully processed and unbleached 100% cotton. Due to this, this type of cotton bag is kinder to the environment than traditional cotton. Calico is durable, strong, washable, reusable and relatively cheap to produce. These bags need to be used 100 times to match the environmental performance of alternatives.
3. Jute bags
Jute is a natural and strong cellulosic fibre. It is reusable, safe for the environment and 100% biodegradable. The plant grows in high rainfall areas and needs little to no pesticides. It is a compostable plant fibre, and therefore, after a long helpful time, it can be discarded without any negative effect on the environment.
It can be customized with branding for a biodegradable and stylish way to proudly show your business cares for the environment and encourages sustainable living. Jute is excellent for shopping bags, grocery bags, and all-around carry bags.
4. Hemp Reusable Bags
Hemp is a natural fibre that belongs to plant species Cannabis sativa. It is rot-resistant, breathable, several times stronger and durable than cotton. The plant can grow in poor soils with little water, without fertilizers or pesticides and is drought tolerant. It is naturally resistant to pests and is 100% biodegradable. 1 acre of hemp plantation can yield 1300 pounds of fibre on average.
This means that this crop can be grown faster and in greater quantities, in comparison to the cotton. It also has a high degree of strength and stiffness while also being lightweight making it perfect for reusable grocery bags.
Hemp shopping bag costs each consumer presumably less than an average cotton bag because the costs of production for hemp bags is quite low.
Reusable bags made with hemp can be easily machine washed and dried. Hemp can be blended with other materials (recycled PET, or cotton) to manufacture highly desirable, fine and high-end fabrics with a texture like linen. It is fast becoming an ideally low environmental impact fabric for the future.
5. Recycled PET Bags
Recycled Polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET) bag looks and feels like a piece of fabric but is made of plastic. It needs 2/3 less energy to make bags out of PET. Using these bags reduces waste and contributes to the conservation of oil and non-renewable resources. It is made from post-consumer recycled plastic containers and bottles.
These recycled PET bags are eco-friendly, durable and create a market for post-consumer recycled materials. They can be blended with other fabrics, like polyester or hemp to make a strong material for reusable shopping bags. Such bags can be made in customized designs and used for advertisement, shopping, gifting, and promotion.
6. Polypropylene woven reusable bags
Polypropylene is a polymer of propylene that is used to create fibre and can be turned into a durable and reusable grocery bag. These are standard reusable grocery bags. These bags are made from bonded, non-woven polypropylene and spun. Non-woven polypropylene is a flexible resin polymer – a form of plastic—and bags made from it are strong and sturdy.
A semi-rigid insert is placed at the bottom of the reusable bag to provide stability. non-woven polypropylene would need to be used 11 times to compensate for the waste that is produced from their manufacturing, production, packaging, transportation, and end-of-life waste. These can be made using recyclable materials, are easy to wipe clean and, available in a variety of printing options and material color.
7. Low-density Polyethylene Reusable Bags (LDPE), a.k.a. “Bags-for-Life”
These are referred to as “Bags-for-Life”, they are thick gauged, and heavy-duty plastic bags – very convenient, highly recyclable, and reusable as kitchen catchers. These are made with 30% recycled content and must be used 5 times to match its environmental footprints of using a conventional plastic shopping bag (HDPE) once.
8. Reusable starch bags
These are biodegradable bags created from natural starches such as tapioca and corn – made from manioc. Other ingredients used in making these bags include- natural starch, corn, bio-waste, tapioca fibre, potatoes, and vegetable oil derivatives. This mix results in a paste that is converted into granules and creates into a biodegradable “plastic”.
If burned, this bag can disintegrate into ashes without generating toxic fumes. One more benefit is that such bags are edible and warrant no harm to land and ocean fauna.
9. Paper Bags
Paper bags are recyclable, biodegradable and easy to compost. But their production needs huge quantities of water. They also need fuel and cut-down trees which is not a very good idea. Using and promoting paper bags solves one environmental issue but adds to another problem. Also, paper bags are not made from recycled material, because the new paper has longer, stronger fibres. Paper bags are not strong and waterproof.
Reusable bags – pros and cons
Reusable bags are a need of the hour looking at the damage, plastic bags have done to the environment. Below are discussed the benefits of switching to reusable bags over plastic or paper bags.
Pros (Benefits) of Reusable Bags.
1. Reusable and Recyclable
One of the biggest benefits of reusable bags is that it is reusable. You can carry them every time you go out for shopping. By switching to a reusable bag, you pledge to be a part of a global campaign that emphasizes reducing contribution to the 1 trillion plastic bags ending up in the landfills and oceans each year.
By toting around your reusable grocery bags and shunning the plastic bags, you contribute to waste reduction. You also clear up the space in your home and car, where plastic clutter (bags) used to get accumulated.
2. Environmental Impact
Plastic grocery bags contribute to the death of millions of sea animals every year. Around 100,000 turtles, 1 million birds and other sea animals are choked to death by ingesting plastic floating in the oceans each year. Reusable bags are a great choice than single-use plastic bags, especially keeping the environment into consideration.
Though the environmental cost of production and manufacturing for some reusable bags may be higher than single-use High-density polyethylene (HDPE) plastics, that difference is forestalled by the number of uses a reusable bag can have. In only fourteen uses, a sturdy polypropylene plastic bag becomes more eco-friendly in comparison to a High-density polyethylene (HDPE) bag.
A 2014 study in the U.S reported that reusable Low-density polyethylene (HDPE) and polypropylene bags are eco-friendly bags that have a lower environmental impact in comparison to the regular plastic bags available in the supermarkets. However, these reusable bags are effective in reducing the environmental impact only if they are reused enough times.
3. Reusable bags save money
Using reusable shopping bags over single-use plastic bags can save money. Many supermarkets and grocery shops in many countries impose an extra charge for plastic bags. Rather than spending an extra buck at the grocery store on disposable plastic bags, reusable shopping bags help you to save money each time you go to the grocery store, run errands, or buy a new outfit.
You are also contributing towards reducing the expenditure that your city needs on waste disposal. Every year, California is spending around $300 million in removing the plastic litter from its coasts.
Besides being used for carrying grocery, reusable bags can also carry your laundry, work supplies, your purse contents, or even your beach gear. Reusable shopping bags, unlike plastic grocery bags, are sturdy, stronger, and can hold multiple things.
5. Reusable bags are more durable
Unlike a plastic bag, the likelihood of a reusable shopping bag has developed a hole in its corner because of any sharp products pressing into it is negligible. The handle of a reusable bag does not tear off easily as it is quite durable and sturdy. Reusable shopping bags are easier and convenient to use for both loading and unloading groceries. The possibility of leaks are less likely to be a problem with reusable bags.
6. Personal, visually appealing and Creative
Reusable bags are visually appealing and a useful and convenient way to express your creativity. You have the option to design your own jute bag, carry your favorite brand logo, or merely make a purchase for the most visually appealing reusable shopping bag to match your style. Reusable shopping bags are a very useful tool and allow you to make your own custom reusable grocery bags, which are not only creative and personal, but also utilize old, used grocery bags in your home.
Reusable bags made using biodegradable and eco-friendly bag materials are always an ideal product for marketing. It speaks volumes about the brand. Bags that are reusable have the brand logo, contact information and a special message on it for customers. So, in other words, brands give a message to customers and let people know about their products and services.
7. Global warming
Plastic bags are responsible for pollution and are harmful to the environment. The landfill sites where the plastic bags pile up and cause pollution due to their non-biodegradable characteristic, contribute more towards global warming.
The paper bags are also bad for the environment. Even paper bags are also the main reason to contribute towards global warming. Each time a tree is cut, it leads to global warming. So, it is better to go for environment-friendly bags that do not cause harm to the environment.
Cons of Reusable Bags
Reusable bags have the tendency to harbor multiple bacteria including coliform bacteria and E. coli. Grocery bags are often exposed to meats, poultry, and produce that have bacteria on them. However, a simple hand or machine wash in between uses can clear up any residual bacteria.
2. Extra Baggage
Yes, remembering to carry a reusable grocery bag every time you step into a grocery store is more monotonous and tedious than just grabbing one while you are there. Stuffing it into your compact handbag becomes a bit annoying at times as it becomes extra baggage. However, the more of a habit you create, the easier it becomes. The more you use it, the more convenient it becomes, and the less convenient it is to accumulate clutter comprising of tens of used plastic bags in your home.
3. Difficult to Dispose of
Custom reusable grocery bags are made of materials that are difficult to dispose of, such as nylon, polyester, or polypropylene. There do exist recycling facilities for such items. But the number of such facilities is few and far between. The good news is that most of the reusable shopping bags are made to last, so you do not need to worry for disposing of them for some years. Moreover, considering the pace at which reusable bags are being stressed upon over plastic bags globally, more and more recycling opportunities are sprouting up for such items.
Benefits of marketing with custom reusable bags
1. Business and brand promotion
Custom printed reusable shopping bags serve as a small billboard of sorts to create and maintain your brand’s recognition. One major reason for this is to free the advertising space and gain the trust of your target market so that they never forget your brand and easily recall it the moment they need your services and products.
From high-quality corporate color images to your prominent logo, text and a contact number, loyal customers walk around carrying a sign and promoting your services and products to everyone they come across. This also serves as an endorsement. Governments, schools, supermarkets, tradeshow, hotels, media houses, etc. print custom patterns, logo or message on a reusable bag to promote a marketing brand or an idea. With high quality reusable/recyclable shopping bags, anything can be printed on your bags.
2. Can hold freebies and other giveaways
Reusable/recyclable custom printed shopping bags can be used to carry other promotional items and giveaways. They can be used during different promotional events or parties. They are great for promoting the brand, and holding other items at the same time.
3. Inspiration for other vendors and customers (Walk the Walk)
Creating an eco-friendly and sustainable promotional product helps businesses to showcase their commitment and seriousness about restoring the depleting resources and saving the planet. Your dedication and commitment to green interventions inspire your vendors and customers to switch to greener activities and choices in their personal or professional lives.
4. Helpful in diminishing the company’s carbon footprint
Clients love the customized, sturdy recycled/reusable bag that has been professionally created and imprinted with the organization’s logo. When businesses create promotional bags carrying their brand logo on them using recyclable/reusable material, they make a contribution towards limiting the company’s carbon impression. They contribute their grain of sand to the Earth’s wellness and this reflects their respect for the environment.
This also prevents the utilization of disposable plastic bags, a topic on the forefront of environmental concerns and a major source of causing havoc to our oceans.
Most of the custom reusable bags are created using sustainable and eco-friendly materials like jute, bamboo, hemp, and organic cotton. These plant-based textiles convert greenhouse gases into breathable oxygen while growing.
5. Get the most bang for your marketing buck
Reusable/recyclable bags products come with a low, budget-friendly price. On average the reusable bags deliver 4 – 6 years of use. So, this investment is expected to pay dividends in some years.
6. Create a stand-alone range of versatile design-led reusable/recyclable bags and make profit
Reusable shopping bags are versatile and eye-catching with great and unique designs. They have multipurpose uses and that is why popular promotional items are created from them. There is a value in gifting your branded bags to your customers. By making these versatile designs led reusable bags desirable to your customers, they can be sold, creating an additional stream of revenue.
Reusable bags vs plastic bags and paper bags – the verdict
A reusable bag is better than a plastic bag or a paper bag only if it is reused multiple times. Plastic bags are convenient and not very pricey, but they are a scourge on the planet. Paper bags are not a great choice either, as they cannot be reused and are not waterproof.
Several studies have reported that certain reusable bags have a massive environmental footprint, too. However, the environmental impact of reusable bags (made of canvas, cotton, jute, etc.) can be reduced if they are reused thousands of times before they meet the environmental performance of paper or plastic bags.
Though plastic bags are recyclable, yet they need special equipment for processing. One more problem with plastic bags is that they cannot be mixed in with general recycling. For recycling purpose, people need to return them at designated recycling collection centers.
EPA (The Environmental Protection Agency) has reported that only 9 percent of plastic bags are brought in the recycling centers in the United States and a mere 7 percent of all plastic waste ends up being recycled. Around 79 percent finds its way in the landfills and it continues sloughing off in the natural environment as litter. From there, it ends up in the oceans. Plastic bags are also a major source of both marine and terrestrial litter.
It all comes down to the consumer to decide the factors which are most important to him. If the consumer is concerned about the money, plastic bags are a cheaper option in comparison to the reusable tote bags. But if he is concerned about the environment and the long-term health of marine life, reusable bags seem a better option. A reusable tote bag has not ever found its way in the belly of a whale, at least.
So, what about paper bags?
They may be recyclable and biodegradable in comparison to plastic and cotton, but, they’re no panacea. Switching from plastic to paper solves one set of the environmental problem but adds others at the same time. The harvesting, manufacturing and production of paper bags take a toll on the environment.
Manufacturing and transportation of paper bags cause huge amounts of air and water pollution. It is an energy-intensive process to take a chunk of lumber and convert it into a flat, smooth, printable piece of paper. Paper recycling also causes massive pollution due to the sludge generated during deinking. The quantity of paper and paper products used is so enormous that the impact on the environment caused by it is also very significant. New York City lawmakers recently passed a 5c fee on paper bags, to encourage people to bring reusable satchels from home.
To sum up, it can be said that reusable bags are a better option than plastic or paper bags. However, the reusable bags should be reused before being used as a bin liner and then discarded. Certain reusable bags need to be reused multiple times to lessen their environmental impact and to match the efficiency of a plastic bag. For example;
- Polypropylene bags (green bags found at supermarkets) need to be reused 37 times
- Cotton bags need to be reused 7,100 times
- Paper bags should be reused 43 times
To have lower global warming potential from the reusable bags than single-use plastic bags:
- LDPE (Low-density polyethylene bags) (thick plastic bags being used in supermarkets) should be used 4 times
- Non-woven polypropylene bags need to be reused 11 times
- Paper bags should be reused 3 times
- Cotton bags need to be reused 131 times.
It is important to keep in mind that if a plastic shopping bag is reused, the number of times an alternative should be used increases. Another study has reported that the reusable polypropylene bags and LDPE do have a lesser environmental impact in comparison to the usual plastic bags found in supermarkets – but only if they are reused multiple times.
As far as environmental impact is concerned, it is important that the consumers possess the right knowledge to make prudent and informed decisions. Some tips are;
- A reusable bag should be used as many times as possible
- Reusable bags should be made from recyclable materials
- Bags having decorations or printing should be avoided – these contribute significantly to the environmental burden of the bag
- Recycle, reuse and repurpose your shopping bags.
Reusable bags offer a great solution to minimize the menace being caused by plastic bags. They do have their own set of disadvantages, but they are certainly one of the simpler problems we can stand to reduce merely through more conscious shopping. The reusable bags need to be used multiple times to match the reliability, effectiveness and efficiency of using a shopping bag made of plastic just once.
Still, many environmental scientists favor reusable bags for their gentle environmental impact. Reusable bags made from materials like hemp, are more environmentally friendly.
So, act now! If we don’t act now, the plastic nuisance will continue to infiltrate our soil, food, oceans and waterways.