Friday, 16 March 2018

How Environmentally Friendly is Your Cotton Tote Bag Really?

Since the launch in 2007 of the famous 'I'm not a plastic bag' tote bag by designer Anya Hindmarch, the abundance of fabric shopper bags has rocketed.
The idea that a cotton shopping bag should be better for the environment than a plastic one seems pretty straight forward, but it is just not that simple.

In terms of the resources used to make various different types of bag the humble plastic bag actually needs less energy and resources than paper or fabric bags per use. The numbers are wildly different depending on what studies you look at, but you need to use a paper bag about 11 times to equal the plastic bag and you would need to use a fabric bag between 100 – 400 times depending on the fabric and what statistics you read.

But the flip side is that cotton bags break down harmlessly and don't end up for hundreds of years floating around the giant ocean garbage gyres, strangling turtles and other wildlife. It's estimated that 1 million birds and thousands of turtles and other sea animals die each year after ingesting discarded plastic bags, and more than 10% of the debris that washes up on US coasts lines is plastic bags*. 

So there are additional negative environmental aspects to plastic bags, above and beyond the energy needed to create them.

But what about fabric bags? Well not all fabric bags are created equal...
If it's fabric then it better be organic. Non organic cotton uses lots of pesticides which are both toxic to the environment and specifically linked with the decline in the bee population. That might not sound very serious, but as our main pollinators, their decline is potentially catastrophic for agriculture, food production and biodiversity.

I design cotton bags amongst other things, because I want people to stop using single use plastic bags entirely.
People often say to me, 'but what will I use as bin liners?' Use recycled plastic bags for the bin or bags not made from petrochemicals (compostable green plastic). At the very least use your plastic bags many times for shopping before turning them into bin liners.

And don't say yes to every free tote that comes your way, there is no point having 20 crappy fabric bags laying around the house, have few, have good quality that won't break after a few uses, and use them often. Take all the ones you don't use and recycle them at a clothing bank. If you use them to carry your food shopping in then machine wash them to make sure they stay clean, especially after transporting meat, chicken etc, to reduce the possibility of contamination from Salmonella or E. Coli.

                                You can check out my new range of organic cotton shopper bags here...     

The other very positive thing about fabric or reusable bags is that they send out a clear message that we are starting to think more seriously about the environment and our impact on it as consumers. As social creatures, we notice what goes on around us, a lot of it on a subconcious level. So the reusable bags we carry are subtly influencing all the people out there that haven't started thinking about the environment yet. Gently giving the message that we can't continue the throw away culture anymore and we all need to reduce our waste and get the most out of the things we have. So we better make sure we really love the things we use because we are going to use them a lot.

Transitioning from an old way of doing things to a new way can often be a fraught experience, as we have to reassess ourselves and our choices. I feel like we are slowly waking up to the fact that there is some serious room for improvement in the world, and most people want to be part of the solution, but there is so much conflicting info, it's hard to know what to do sometimes... I know this personally, I had no idea about environmental things a few years ago, just no clue. Doesn't make me a bad person, I just didn't know that I didn't know. Then I started to hear things, read things, I looked into stuff and I started to see that there were big problems. I decided I wanted to be part of the solution and I am full of optimism that innovation, necessity and the desire that everyone has, to make things better will get us there.

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