Reusable bags are made from a wide range of different materials, and the environmental impact of producing those materials also differs widely. For example, it’s often stated that to have a comparable environmental footprint to plastic bags, a cotton bag has to be used thousands of times. However, materials other than cotton perform better in sustainability metrics.
The biggest positive of any type of reusable bag in terms of eco-friendliness is that their use cuts down on the amount of plastic litter that ends up in landfill or in the ocean and other waterways. Studies have found that bans on plastic bags have directly contributed to a decreased amount of plastic litter in nearby waters.
Key Indicators of Environmental Impact
There are several variables to compare when it comes to rating the overall environmental impact of bags. Depending on which aspect of environmental impact you’re focusing on, the results can vary. Energy use, natural resource use, pollution, and emissions, are just a few of the different areas you can compare. Here are the main 3 areas and some of the considerations of each:
- Production – the impact of producing one bag in terms of energy input, natural resource use, transportation and emissions from manufacturing.
- Use – How use of the product impacts humans or the environment, including impact on human health and lifespan of the reusable bag.
- Post Use – How disposal of the product impacts the environment in terms of pollution, emissions from disposal (gasses from breakdown in landfill or incineration) and the cost of recycling
The total impact of a product can be calculated using our simplified formula:
Total Environmental Impact = Cost of Production + Cost of Use + Cost of Disposal
Which Reusable Bag Material is Most Eco-Friendly?
Natural fibres are a popular choice for reusable bags. They are typically hard-wearing and can be composted at the end of their useful lives. You’ll never see a reusable cotton shopping bag stuck in a river or up a tree as you might a plastic bag. Of the three commonly used natural fibres, cotton is the most water and chemical-intensive crop to grow. However, organic cotton has a smaller eco footprint than regular cotton.
Jute and hemp are both considered more environmentally friendly than cotton in terms of requiring less energy and resources to grow the crops and produce material out of them. For example, hemp grows well without pesticides or fertilisers and is drought tolerant. Each acre yields 3 to 6 tonnes of dry fibre. Meanwhile jute grows almost as fast as hemp and produces 50 to 100 tonnes per acre.
Avoid Thicker Plastic Bags
Some stores are replacing single-use plastic bags with reusable thicker plastic bags (usually polyethylene), often for a small charge. These bags are made either partly or wholly of brand new, virgin plastic. These are heavier duty than the typical plastic bag, but they are estimated to be used an average of 5 times before they either break or are disposed of by the consumer. Not single-use, but not much of an improvement either.
These bags are best avoided as they are prone to splitting, and the handles stretch when the contents are heavy. A quality, reusable bag, whether made from cotton, jute or hemp, is a far superior option when it comes to durability and eco-friendliness.
Get in Touch Today for Quality Reusable Shopping Bags
At Albury Enviro Bags, we have Australia’s best range of customisable jute, cotton and hemp bags. These are available in a wide range of colours and styles and are printed perfectly and delivered on-time, every time. Explore our range by material or by bag style or contact our team today to find out more.