General Information:

The general presumption of reusable bags is that they are better for the environment than either paper or plastic bags. Most are made from recycled materials and are used many more times than a single-use disposable bag. However, as you can see from the pros and cons list for reusable bags, not all reusable bags are created equal. Some are made with less recycled materials than other, some break and wear out easily, and some are very expensive. In general, some advantages to reusable bags are:
  • Typically, reusable bags can hold at least twice as many items as plastic bags, and do not rip or tear very easily.
  • Reusable bags are washable and most will last for years
  • Reusable bags are most often non-toxic, non-corrosive and non-allergenic
  • Using one cloth reusable bag can save up to 6 plastic bags a week, or 24 bags a month, or 288 bags a year, or 22,176 bags in a lifetime, making the environmental impact very worthwhile.

Resource Requirements

Canvas totes are available in conventional cotton, organic cotton, or hemp. The environmental impact of conventional cotton cultivation is well known--a major percentage of the world's herbicides are used to defoliate cotton prior to harvesting. While organic cotton is better, both conventional and organic cotton use a significant amount of water, so the environmental impact of the fabric bag is directly proportional to its weight.
Polyester tote bags, such as the ChicoBag, are easily portable shopping bags made from a very thin but durable fabric. At 35 grams, the manufacturing of the polyester material for one bag creates 89 grams of greenhouse gas emissions, which compares to the manufacture of just seven disposable plastic shopping bags. ChicoBag now also makes a bag that is made from seven recycled soda bottles.
Another popular shopping bag is made from polypropylene and is designed in the shape of a brown paper shopping bag. These bags, such as hose made by One Bag at a Time, can now be found at the checkout lines pretty much every store. At 103 grams, the manufacturing of the polypropylene material for each bag creates 138 grams of greenhouse gas emissions, which compares to the manufacture of 11 disposable plastic shopping bags.