Choosing an Eco-Friendly Shopping Bag
Retailers and shoppers alike are becoming more discerning when it comes to shopping bag choices. More and more emphasis is being placed on having eco-friendly options, and running retail packaging programs that have less of an impact on the environment.
But with all of the eco-friendly shopping bag options out there, how do you choose which one makes the most sense?
Eco-Friendly from the Start
When considering the environmental impact of a shopping bag, there are two things you should keep in mind: where it comes from, and where it will end up.
In other words, there’s the environmental impact of making the bag from raw materials, and the impact it will have when it’s eventually discarded.
For the first part, bags are usually considered to be more eco-friendly if they’re made from recycled, renewable, or sustainable materials.
- Recycled bags are better for the environment because they use up post-consumer materials that would otherwise fill up landfills, and because they don’t require new raw materials to be harvested. In some areas, local or state laws require certain types of shopping bags to contain at least some percentage of recycled content.
- Renewable materials are basically anything that can be grown, like cotton or jute. The benefit here is that we’ll never run out of these materials; we can grow more every year.
- Sustainable manufacturing uses renewable resources in an environmentally-conscious way. For example, paper is a renewable resource, but only if the harvested wood is replaced with new trees. Sustainable paper bags are made using Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards, which ensures that each tree harvested is replaced by new seedlings, and that the whole process is done in a way that protects water quality, wildlife habitats, and native flora and fauna populations.
Shipping also plays a small role in sourcing earth-friendly shopping bags, since transporting the bags burns fuel and creates carbon emissions. You can reduce shipping costs (of all kinds) by choosing a closer supplier, using lighter-weight bags, or simply using more efficient logistics.
To The Finish
The other, more visible side of the equation is what happens to the bags once they leave your store in the customers’ hands. Will they be reused? Will they end up in landfills? And if they do end up in landfills, what happens to them then?
There are a number of ways you can make a bag safer for the environment after it’s been used:
- Recyclable. Many bags are capable of being recycled, and recycling is one of the best end uses for a shopping bag. Statistically, though, most of them do not end up in recycling bins. That’s why other options are needed, including:
- Compostable. Compostable bags biodegrade when placed in a compost pile or composting facility. There they are broken down by microorganisms and turned into humus, or dirt.
- Landfill-degradable. While compostable bags are made to biodegrade in a compost setting, landfill-degradable bags break down within landfills. The difference is that composting is an aerobic process, or one that requires oxygen. Since landfills contain very little oxygen, landfill-degradable bags (such as Rock Bags) are designed to break down using an anaerobic, or oxygen-free, process.
- Reusable. Reusable shopping bags are designed to be used dozens or hundreds of times over before they wear out or are discarded. They reduce waste by eliminating all of the single-use bags that would otherwise be needed.
- Repurposable. These shopping bags are also designed to be reusable, but reused as something other than a bag. An example would be RagBags, which can be repurposed as cleaning rags, towels, or multiple other uses. Besides getting reused many times before being thrown out, such bags can also cut down on waste from the other products (like paper towels) that they replace.
If your goal is to choose the most eco-friendly shopping bag option, you have to consider all of the factors from start to finish. It likely means choosing a combination of features. For example, a reusable shopping bag still gets discarded at some point, so it’s best for it to also be recyclable or degradable.
For help in sorting through the options available, you can always contact us at Impak. For years, we’ve been a leader in developing new eco-friendly shopping bags. We’d be happy to answer whatever questions you have, or to give you free quotes to help you compare different types of bags.