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Canvas Tote Bags vs Plastic Bags: The Ultimate Showdown

April Cole |

The United States consumes tens of billions of plastic bags annually. Thankfully canvas tote bags are rising in sales. There have been bans or charges placed on plastic bags in several locations worldwide to reduce the amount of bags used just once and then discarded. But are reusable bags or paper bags significantly better for the planet? According to scientific evidence, there is no simple solution.

With health, the environment, and climate change all competing for our attention, how can a shopper make ethical purchasing decisions? In order to answer this issue, let's look at the primary two bag materials: plastic and canvas.

Life Cycle of Canvas Totes and Plastic Bags

Tote Bag Factory Canvas Tote Bag

A bag's life cycle must be examined to comprehend its complete scope of effects and advantages. Overall, from production to disposal, a product's life cycle analysis (LCA) considers the total amount of energy expended and the total number of environmental consequences caused by the product. Everything from obtaining the raw materials to processing them, making the product, packing it for transit, distributing it, using it, recycling it, and finally disposing of it is part of the entire process.

Each process' efficiency and the number of preventive environmental measures applied at each stage are also factors in the total environmental impact calculated by an LCA. Variables, including raw material origin, processing facility location, product lifespan, and disposal technique, all impact the total amount of energy expended.

Life cycle analyses conducted in Europe and North America show that plastic bags are preferable to paper or reusable bags, regardless of how often the latter are reused. Yet most people don't think about litter, which is a huge issue and a known downside of plastic bags.

Plastic Bags

For environmental reasons, canvas tote bags are preferable to plastic ones. They may be utilized for things like composting and recycling because of their biodegradability. But, paper is incredibly resource-intensive to produce; it takes nearly four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does a plastic bag, and the chemicals and fertilizers needed to generate paper bags further hurt the environment.

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It takes anything from three uses of a paper bag to 43 uses of a plastic bag for the environmental effect of the paper bag to be the same as that of the plastic bag. Paper bags are the least durable alternative. Thus it's doubtful that a single user would get enough usage out of one bag to cancel out their negative impact on the environment.

However, the fact that paper may be recycled mitigates some of its negative effects. The percentage of paper recovered for recycling in the United States increased over the previous decade to 68.1% in 2018, the highest recorded percentage. Unfortunately, there is a limit to how often paper can be recycled since paper fibers get shorter and weaker with each recycling operation.

Canvas Tote Bags

What constitutes "eco-friendly" is a matter of personal interpretation. Hence there is no single correct answer. To some, "eco-friendly" means "doesn't contaminate landfills, streams, or seas." Canvas totes are an excellent green substitute for individuals who prefer not to use plastic.

ToteBagFactory Wholsale Canvas Bag

On the other hand, those who take a more in-depth look at things can define an eco-friendly product as reducing the planet's consumption of resources like water, air, fossil fuels, and so on. Producing one cotton canvas tote bag uses as much energy as 400 plastic bags.

As the British study discovered, a canvas bag has to be reused thousands of times before it is more environmentally friendly than a standard plastic bag. And to be as eco-friendly as their plastic counterparts, paper bags must be reused thrice. The results were even more discouraging regarding cotton totes: canvas totes require more than 130 reuses to equal the environmental effect of plastic bags.

British scientists advise recycling or reusing all plastic bags at least once to reduce their impact on the environment, and the easiest way to do this with a garbage bag that doesn't look so great is to use it as a liner.

Neither the Danish nor the British studies included ocean pollution when calculating the relative environmental effect of different shopping bags. Ocean pollution is a severe problem, and marine life is increasingly threatened by the accumulation of plastic trash caused by humans.

Canvas Totes vs Plastic Bags

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The answer is that it depends on where they were made and how long they will be utilized. As their environmental impact is reduced once they have been used for a certain period of time, reusable solutions are preferable.

The key to making a bag really sustainable lies in our own hands; we can do this by moving away from single-use bags, opting for organic and fair trade options, and reusing everything we purchase. An additional critical factor to think about is the bag's durability; in other words, how sturdy is the bag you've decided to buy? What is the item's lifespan in terms of uses before it wears out or breaks? Finally, a bag's sustainability score is boosted if it can be composted after its (hopefully) long life without contributing to pollution.

Sustainable Options For Bags

It's not easy to tell which form of bag is the most environmentally friendly because both canvas and plastic bags significantly negatively impact the environment. Thankfully, you can shop from the ToteBagFactory website with similar sustainable options.

Recycled Cotton Bags

In other words, recycled cotton is cotton that was saved from being dumped in a landfill. Most recycled cotton comes from cotton remnants discarded by textile factories worldwide. In other words, this cotton is a byproduct of the textile and apparel industries.

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Recycled or post-consumer recycled cotton can be made from previously owned cotton clothes that have been discarded. The biggest problem with recycled cotton is that it can only be recycled so many times before it breaks down. Cotton fibers typically suffer diminished length, durability, and visual appeal throughout recycling.

In addition, for a high-quality result, recycled cotton must be combined with other fibers like (recycled) polyester. This is why, using today's manufacturing techniques, you won't find anything manufactured entirely from recycled cotton. Whilst some businesses aim for a minimum of 50% recycled content, recycled cotton is still preferable to freshly made materials for minimizing waste.

To further our mission to provide our environmentally concerned clients with additional sustainable shopping alternatives, ToteBagFactory has released a growing collection of bags constructed from recycled cotton. You can see some of the most recent additions to our stock of green bags here.

Biodegradable Bags

When something or someone can decompose into simpler components without the need for human intervention, we say that it is "biodegradable." It's odd to phrase it, but you and everyone you know, even animals and vegetation, are biodegradable. Most of the products we use regularly are not biodegradable. Thus, they often do not decay away. They are incredibly long-lasting because of the chemicals they manufacture, but this is not an admirable trait.

ToteBagFactory Biodegradable Bags

Further exacerbating matters is that as non-biodegradable artifacts decompose, all of the hazardous substances within them will leach into the earth after hundreds of years. Using polymers that can only be used once is unacceptable because of the damage they cause over time.

Plants are commonly used in the production of biodegradable polymers. They should, in theory, at least decompose at roughly the same rate as food scraps. However, in practice, this is not always the case. Biodegradable materials find a great application in composting. The conventional composting technique is dumping plant matter and food waste into a bin and mashing them together, but gathering the necessary components can be a pain.

First and foremost, while assessing a product's carbon footprint, you should look into the presence of any potentially hazardous ingredients. You may safely try out new ideas using biodegradable bags because they don't include chemicals. You may safely keep raw meat in biodegradable bags or nibble on one if you're bored.

The composting process is a fascinating application of biodegradable garbage bags since they contain a mixture of food waste and organic material that is then utilized to enhance the soil. The irony is not lost on us, but the decomposition of biodegradable bags, when added to a compost pile, increases the compost's overall nutritional value because the bags are constructed entirely of natural materials.