Plastic Bags

Myths: Fact or Fiction

Degrade in Landfill Myth

The Single Use Myth

Recycling

Paper vs. Plastic Bags


Paper vs. Plastic Studies

Reusables Greener?

Types of Bags

Litter: The Facts
Public Health

Canada Update

Bags Around the World

The Oil Myth

Made in Canada
Ireland's Bag Tax

Types of Reusable Bags

Fabric, paper and plastic

Bags By Type of Material

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Fabric Reusable Bags

 Cotton & Canvas Bags

  • Cotton and canvas bags are the most common bags made with natural-fibres.
  • They might be made from traditional cotton, organic cotton or recycled cotton bags.
  • Traditional cotton is made from a renewable crop source, but requires chemicals and pesticides and consumes huge quantities of water.
  • Organic cotton is grown without pesticides, which is helpful in reducing the negative environmental footprint of cotton production.
  • Recycled cotton consists of reclaimed organic and traditional cotton "scrap" which is spun into new yarn.
  • To match the efficiency of using a plastic shopping bag just once, each cotton bag must be reused 131 times to compensate for its large carbon footprint/global warming potential.

Advantages

  • Biodegradable/natural plant fibre
  • Renewable resource
  • Strong and durable (bags are typically 8-12 ounces)
  • Soft fabric
  • Can be machine washed in cold water

Disadvantages

  • Heavy environmental footprint and global warming potential
  • Traditional (non-organic) cotton production accounts for 16% of the world's pesticide use
  • High water consumption crop
  • Bags are not moisture resistant, unless chemically treated
  • Heavy, bulky and expensive to ship
  • Not sterile and needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food
  • Not recyclable in Canada

Calico Reusable Bags

  • Calico is a cotton fibre that is unbleached and not fully processed
  • Since this is essentially a cotton bag, it is very resource intensive, giving it a high carbon footprint
  • Has to be used hundreds of times to match the environmental performance of alternatives

Advantages

  • Lack of bleaching and processing makes this type of cotton bag kinder to the environment
    than traditional cotton
  • The fabric is relatively cheap to produce
  • These bags are strong and durable, but subject to shrinking when washed in warm or hot water

Disadvantages

  • Not water resistant unless chemically treated
  • Unless organically grown, this cotton requires heavy pesticide use
  • Very water-intensive crop
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food
  • Not recyclable in Canada

Hemp Reusable Bags

  • Hemp is a natural fibre that is several times stronger than cotton
  • Hemp is used for textiles and industrial applications
  • This is a different plant from the same family of hallucinogenic marijuana
  • The crop can grow in poor soils, is drought tolerant and grows well without pesticides or fertilizers

 Advantages

  • Extremely strong, durable, and rot resistant
  • Can grow in poor soils with little water
  • Most hemp reusable bags can be machine washed and dried
  • Hemp can be blended with other materials to make highly desirable, high end fabrics with a texture similar to linen
  • Hemp is typically blended with cotton, or recycled PET

Disadvantages

  • Currently cannot be grown domestically (hemp products in the western world are imported)
  • Can be expensive
  • Can be grainy, though most is refined
  • Refined hemp uses more water to cultivate
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food
  • Not recyclable in Canada

Jute Reusable Bags

  • Jute is a natural plant fibre that can be spun into coarse, strong threads
  • Grows in high rainfall areas and requires little to no pesticides or irrigation
  • Often referred to as hessian in Europe and burlap in North America

 Advantages

  • Natural renewable resource
  • Biodegradable and compostable
  • Relatively cheap to purchase
  • Durable
  • Can be blended with other fabrics (like Jute made with Nonwoven Polypropylene)

Disadvantages

  • Scarcity of supply as used primarily to store crops
  • The bags are not very resistant to moisture unless chemically treated or laminated
  • Grainy texture
  • Not easily branded—print capability is clunky and limited—so fewer organizations choose this material for their bags
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food
  • Not recyclable in Canada

Reusable Paper Bags

Advantages

Disadvantages

Reusable Plastic Bags

There are a number of options available, made from different polymers:

Recycled PET Reusable Bag

  • It looks and feels like a fabric bag but is made from plastic (PET#1 bottles recycled into fabric, e.g. Loblaws' resuable bag)
  • Recycled PET is a durable, eco-friendly fabric made from post-consumer recycled plastic bottles and containers
  • Reusable bags made from recycled PET create a market for post-consumer recycled materials

    Advantages

  • Using recycled PET materials reduces waste and conserves a non-renewable resource  
  • Strong and durable
  • Requires 2/3 less energy to manufacture products made out of PET
  • Can be blended with other fabrics, like hemp or polyester to make a nice material for reusable bags

Disadvantages

  • Typically manufactured off shore
  • Recyclable, but not currently in Canada
  • Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash only)

Polypropylene Reusable Bags (PP)

  • Made from spun, bonded, non-woven polypropylene
  • Non-woven polypropylene is a form of plastic—a flexible resin polymer used to make rope, chairs and the tops of Tic-Tac containers
  • This type of bag is very popular in Canada because of its strength and slightly rigid, sturdy profile
  • A semi-rigid insert is put into the bottom of the bag to provide stability

Advantages

  • Very strong and durable
  • Can be made from recycled materials
  • Easy to wipe clean
  • Wide variety of material color and printing options

Disadvantages

  • While recyclable, it is not recyclable in Canada
  • Made off shore
  • Not biodegradable or compostable
  • Made from a non-renewable resource
  • Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash or spray clean only)
  • Problems with lead in the inks and bag bottom inserts have led to a number of recalls
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food

Nylon Reusable Bags

  • Nylon is a type of synthetic polymer originally made to replace silk in fabrics
  • Material compacts into a small ball for storage and ease of use

 Advantages

  • Nylon is strong and durable
  • Lightweight material
  • Compacts easily
  • Easily dyed which creates interesting material colour options
  • Water resistant

Disadvantages          

  • Not recyclable
  • Slow to break down
  • Made from a non-renewable resource
  • Needs to be washed regularly to prevent bacterial cross contamination of food
  • Not recyclable in Canada

Low density Polyethylene Reusable Bags (LDPE), a.k.a. "Bags-for-Life"

  • These are thick gauged, heavy duty plastic bags often referred to as "Bags-for-Life"
  • They are highly recyclable, convenient and can be reused as kitchen catchers
  • The LCBO used to offer consumers a heavy gauge LDPE bag with 30% recycled content 
  • A UK Environment Agency study of supermarket bags found that the LDPE "Bag-for-Life" has to be used five times to match the environmental impact of using a conventional plastic shopping bag (HDPE) once

Advantages

  • Recyclable (with the exception of the bag with some prodegradant additives)
  • Made in Canada
  • Can be recycled in Canada
  • High reuse
  • Does not biodegrade (excepting bags with the additive), making it useful for landfill

Disadvantages

  • Litter concerns for most of the bags because of their somewhat lightweight nature
  • Made from a non-renewable resource
  • Does not biodegrade

Conventional Polyethylene Reusable Bags—the Multi-Purpose Reusable

  • There are a number of different polyethylene reusable bags on the market – conventional high density (HDPE#2), polyethylene with prodegradant additive, and low density (LDPE#4) bags.

i) High density polyethylene and Low density polyethylene bags

  • These are multi-purpose, shorter life bags
  • The conventional polyethylene plastic shopping bags have been included because of their high reuse rates of 40-60%
  • This reuse is predominately as bin liners for household garbage - and in the case of Toronto, to recycle organics in the green bin
  • However, the conventional bag, is also reused for a multitude of other purposes like carrying groceries, to manage pet waste, as lunch bags, for storage, for packaging, for travel, and so on

ii) High Density Polyethylene Bags with a Prodegradant Additive

  • This is similar in purpose and configuration to the conventional plastic shopping bag but it has an additive to accelerate the degradation process when exposed to natural daylight, heat, mechanical stress and weathering
  • These bags have been introduced into the marketplace in response to litter concerns
  • These plastics undergo accelerated degradation under the right conditions
  • There are concerns some of these bags resins may not be compatible with the recycling of film plastics and may contaminate the recycling stream

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