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Can bags ever be eco-friendly?

What’s that one thing you always carry with you when you go out shopping or a small stroll in the nearby market? Yes, of course, your wallet, but also another practical companion — the essential carry bag that always acts as the third wheel on your short trips. Come to think of it, a humble daily-use bag can be one of the first few items that can kick-start your journey towards living more sustainably and having a smaller environmental footprint.

Now comes the dreaded question: In the sea of information regarding sustainable products, how do you discern whether it’s paper, cloth, or another material, and can these bags truly be eco-friendly in the long run? To address this query, let’s begin by examining the construction of various types of bags.

Easy but not so easy- The Paper Saga

Interestingly enough, paper bags are easier to recycle but resource-heavy to produce. Manufacturing a paper bag takes about four times as much energy as it takes to produce a plastic bag, plus the chemicals and fertilizers used in producing paper bags. Paper fibres become shorter and weaker each time, thus limiting the number of times paper can be recycled. For a paper bag to neutralize its environmental impact compared to plastic, it would have to be used at least three times. However, this usage may not often happen since paper bags are the least durable.

Cotton story – It’s complicated!

Cotton Bags: Cotton requires huge amounts of water and land to cultivate. One kilogram of cotton requires up to 22,500 litres of water, most of which is either groundwater or freshwater. Furthermore, cotton crops use a significant amount of chemical pesticides and fertilizers, affecting soil and water quality. One study from the United Kingdom found that cotton bags have to be reused around 131 times before they reduce their impact on climate change to the same extent as plastic bags.

Plastic Bag Dilemma

Does this mean that we should continue using plastic bags? Not really! Plastic bags have their footprint in terms of fossil fuel use, littering, insufficient recycling, or disposal after a single use.

Sustainability is also about responsible use

The issue isn’t solely determined by the type of bag we use—whether plastic, cloth, or paper—but rather by how we utilize and dispose of them, which significantly influences their environmental footprint. Even unused cloth bags carry a notable environmental burden. Nowadays, many brands distribute cloth or paper bags, yet their true environmental impact emerges only through multiple reuses and responsible disposal. It’s prudent to refrain from accumulating more bags if you already possess enough. Instead, opt to utilize the bags you already own during your next shopping trip. Maximizing the reuse of bags helps minimize their environmental footprint. Reuse and responsible disposal are crucial. If you find yourself in need of new bags, select ones that are durable, reusable, and easy to clean. In line with these criteria, a canvas bag presents itself as a promising option to consider. What are your thoughts?

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