Thursday, March 3, 2011

Reusable Bags, the Best Option?

In the paper vs plastic debate, it is clear that both types of bags have pros as well as many cons for use. It would seem that the alternative reusable bag is the best option for reducing waste. However, before you go out and buy a slew of reusable bags to do your part in saving the environment, you need to consider how wasteful reusable bags can be. According to reuseit.com, there are a few things to consider before purchasing or picking out your reusable bags: Firstly, Who is making the bag and where? If the bag is cheap, then you may be purchasing a foreign bag which was not made under fair trade and fair labor laws. Next, you have to ask if the bag will last? If the bag is cheap, it most likely will not last long, even though the price may be right. If the bag doesn't last, it will go in the trash and contribute to waste. If a bag is free, you will probably end up with lots of them and they will waste away in a closet or pantry, never to be used. A lot of bags will have grocery store logos on them, and you may not want to use a Trader Joe's bag at Whole Foods, leaving those bags wasted as well. To ensure you have the lesat amount of wasted reusable bags, focus on the quality, not the quantity. Invest in a few well-built, nice looking reusable bags that will last you a while and that you will actually use.
In order to invest in a few, good quality bags, you have to know which kinds of bags are the best for you. Here is a list of advantages and disadvantages of the different kinds of reusable bags, courtesy of greenlivingtips.com:

Polypropylene reusable bags

Polypropylene is a form of plastic

Advantages

•Can be recycled

•Strong and durable

•Can be made from recycled materials

•Chemical resistant

•Very cheap to produce

Disadvantages

•Low quality bags made from thin polypropylene do tend to wear out very quickly

•Polypropylene is made from oil. However, if the bag is made from recycled polypropylene, it is giving new life to what otherwise may have entered the waste stream

Reusuable jute bags

Jute is a plant fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads. It's often referred to as hessian in products, such as a hessian bag
Advantages

•Biodegradable

•One of the strongest natural fibers

•Relatively cheap to buy

•Durable

•Jute crops require little water

Disadvantages

•Not very resistant to moisture unless chemically treated

•Jute may be grown with the use of pesticides

•Most jute products are imported (travel miles = greenhouse gases)

Reusable calico bags

Calico is a usually a cotton fabric that's unbleached and not fully processed
Advantages

•The lack of bleaching and processing makes it kinder to the environment as less chemicals are used

•The fabric relatively cheap to produce

•Cotton is very strong and durable

Disadvantages

•Not water resistant unless chemically treated

•Unless organically grown, cotton requires a huge amount of pesticide

•The growing of cotton is very water intensive

Reusable cotton/canvas bags

Advantages

•Soft fabric

•Durable and strong

Disadvantages

•Unless the cotton is grown organically, high levels of pesticides are used

•Fully processed cotton required extensive additional treatment

•Cotton is a water intensive crop

Reusable hemp bags

The word "hemp" tends to stir up all sorts of association with marijuana. However, in terms of textiles, industrial hemp is a different plant from the same family with very little of the hallucinogenic properties of its cousin.
Advantages

•Incredibly strong, durable and rot resistant fiber

•The crop can grow in poor soils with little water

Disadvantages

•Can be quite expensive due to resistance on the part of governments to allow the crop to be grown domestically, purely due to incorrect associations with marijuana; so most hemp products in the western world are imported. Thankfully, this is slowly starting to change.

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