Environmental Impact of Tote Bags

Alyssa Mertes

Kyrsten Ledger

Promo Expert

Published: January 30th, 2019

Updated: April 4th, 2019

The world is being swallowed up by plastic grocery bags. You can find them in the garbage, piled high in landfills, or floating around in the ocean. We can all do our part to make the Earth more eco-friendly by switching to a reusable tote bag. The perfect tote can hold anything from books to groceries and is durable enough to use over and over again.

Are tote bags better for the environment? How can you recycle your tote bags? Let’s find out the impact tote bags have on our planet.

A Brief History on Plastic Bags and How They’re Destroying the Planet

To appreciate the value of a tote bag, it’s important to first understand the impact of their more environmentally-hazardous alternative, plastic bags. Single-use plastic bags were invented in 1965 by Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin. In a little over 50 years, these infamous bags went from being in every supermarket nationwide to being banned in 59 countries around the world.

Take a look at the effects of plastic bags and their horrifying numbers:

Infographic - A Brief History on Plastic Bags and How They’re Destroying the Planet
Infographic - A Brief History on Plastic Bags and How They’re Destroying the Planet

Since plastic bags aren’t getting recycled, you can find them littering roads, forests, and oceans. Disposing of plastic improperly is harming the environment as well as people and animals. Millions of plastic bags in our oceans and landfills damage all habitats.

Toxins & Water Retention

Toxins & Water Retention
Plastic bags aren’t biodegradable and never truly breakdwn. This makes the leftover plastic more porous, meaning it’s able to retain water and absorb toxins. When a bag full of toxins slips into the ocean, all the chemicals are released into the water killing plants and marine life.

Less Oxygen

Less Oxygen
On land, trees and plants absorb carbon dioxide (what we exhale) and release oxygen (what we inhale). The same goes for aquatic plants.

Higher Mosquito Populations

Higher Mosquito Populations
Mosquitos thrive in wet climates because they need water to lay their eggs. Water retention in plastic bags helps the mosquito population grow, which can potentially spread diseases.

Extinction

Extinction
Less oxygen in the water means fish will die, causing a domino effect. Once fish are gone, animals who eat fish may also die off. Not to mention, less food and the potential of higher disease transmission rates aren’t benefical for any living creature. Of course, this won’t happen overnight or anytime soon, but the possibility is there.

It’s simple: plastic bags don’t belong in nature. They’re harming our land, water, and air, and with all that in mind, they’re not worth carrying around.

Check out this video from The Economist about how plastic pollution is affecting our planet!

Why Plastic is Out and Tote Bags Are In

Despite the urgency of reducing pollution, plastic continues to be dumped into landfills, which eventually winds up in the ocean. A lot of companies like Adidas, IKEA, Costco, Aldi, and Whole Foods are saying “no” to plastic bags and “yes” to branded totes!

Why Plastic is Out, and Tote Bags Are In

Instead of throwing out single-use plastic bags, you can reuse your tote bags over and over again. The average American family uses 1,500 bags a year, which is about 478 plastic bags per person.

Why Plastic is Out, and Tote Bags Are In

Let’s do the math.

Although this is just a rough estimate based on average statistics, the numbers are astronomical. If every person in the United States opted to use reusable tote bags instead of single-use plastic bags, almost 155.7 trillion bags wouldn’t wind up polluting the Earth.

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?

With all this talk about finding eco-friendly solutions, it’s important to explain what the term really means in relation to tote bags. The green movement began in 1972 and aimed to make people conscious of the deterioration of nature and its resources. Since then, terms like green, eco-friendly, and sustainable often get used interchangeably; however, they all have very different definitions.

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?

Green is an umbrella term for all the words associated with the environmental impact on the Earth. Eco-friendly and sustainable are the most common terms that fall underneath the umbrella. While they both encourage helping the planet, their biggest difference is timing. Eco-friendly is used to describe the present and in layman’s terms, it means it doesn’t harm the planet. On the other hand, sustainable focuses on the future, meaning an item, or action, will generate environmental benefits long term. Basically, an item that’s eco-friendly doesn’t have to be sustainable, but if something is sustainable, it’s also eco-friendly.

What Does Eco-Friendly Mean?

Do Tote Bags Make the Cut?

While tote bags aren’t currently sustainable, most of them are considered eco-friendly. However, not all tote bags are the perfect solution because some materials require the use of petroleum during manufacturing. This releases carbon into the air and increases the chance of oil spills in the ocean, polluting it further and potentially killing wildlife.

There is good news though! Some tote bags are made from natural resources or require less amounts of petroleum to manufacture. Choosing these materials are better choices than plastic bags when it comes to picking an eco-friendly solution.

These are the materials that are the most eco-friendly.

Polypropylene

Polypropylene: Manufacturing polypropylene doesn’t require a lot of petroleum and it’s one of the only plastic-based tote bags that can be recycled.

Jute

Jute: This plant-based fiber is biodegradable and doesn’t require the use of petroleum to manufacture.

Recycled materials

Recycled materials: Tote bags made from recycled materials are always considered eco-friendly because the materials used didn’t wind up in the trash.

100% Cotton

100% Cotton: This plant-based material is a natural resource that requires very little petroleum to produce and manufacture.

Canvas

Canvas: Derived from cotton, canvas is also a plant-based material that’s biodegradable.

No matter which material you choose or how it’s made, using tote bags will cut down on plastic waste. Totes are great for reusing again and again, unlike plastic bags.

The Different Ways to Use Tote Bags

It’s safe to say that most tote bags are used as reusable shopping bags, especially since some stores offer them in place of plastic bags. Totes shouldn’t be limited to just grocery stores though. They’re just as useful as their plastic counterparts in a number of situations.

Travel

Travel: Tote bags are perfect to use for a quick carry-on bag. Not to mention, you can easily toss in that newly-purchased magazine without needing a plastic bag from the airport’s newsstand.

Garden

Garden: If you’re a gardener, you know how much of a pain it can be transporting your produce from your garden to your kitchen. Using tote bags will make it ten times faster and eliminate the use of plastic bags.

Work

Work: Small tote bags are perfect for bringing your lunch to work. This will also save you money and prevent you from bringing your lunch in a plastic or paper bag.

Storage

Storage: Tote bags make great storage containers for items like art supplies, toys, and sewing materials. You can even color code them to find what you need faster, which certainly beats digging through a dozen plastic bags that look the same.

Garbage

Garbage: One of the most common ways to “reuse” a plastic bag is as a garbage liner for small trash bins. Imagine how convenient it’d be to toss dryer sheets and lint in a garbage can lined with a tote bag that’s also super easy to wash when it gets dirty.

The more you use a tote bag, the greater the impact they have on the environment. Any time you have to carry or transport items around, try using a tote bag. You won’t regret their convenience and reliability.

Repurposing Tote Bags

Don’t throw away your tote bag when the handle finally breaks, or you don’t need it anymore. Repurpose it instead!

Check out how you can turn your tote bag into something new:

Make Drink Coasters
cdn.craftingagreenworld.com

Make Drink Coasters

Give Your Plants a New Look
cdn.shopify.com

Give Your Plants a New Look

Craft Your Own Pillowcases
i2.wp.com

Craft Your Own Pillowcases

Create Kitchen Pot Holders
cdn.craftingagreenworld.com

Create Kitchen Pot Holders

Turn Totes Into an Apron for Kids
cdn.shopify.com

Turn Totes Into an Apron for Kids

Recycling Tote Bags

Recycling Tote Bags

If repurposing your tote bags doesn’t pique your creativity, you can always recycle them. Totes made from polypropylene are currently the only material that can be recycled. Double check with your local recycling plant to make sure they recycle polypropylene since not every company will. Still stuck? Recycle Now is a company that allows you to search for recyclers that recycle specific items like tote bags. If there’s nothing within driving distance of you, they also offer a charity locator to help you find organizations to donate your totes.

Recycling Tote Bags
Support Causes with Donations! www.chicobag.com

Support Causes with Donations!

Other companies are passionate about making unwanted or broken totes into useful items again. For example, ChicoBag will take tote bags no matter what condition they’re in. Their mission is to eliminate single-use items around the globe. Depending on the quality, they’ll donate totes to domestic violence shelters and other organizations or shelters that might need totes. The ones that are too damaged to donate will be recycled and used to create new products like cosmetics or lunch bags.

Do you have tote bags that are broken or maybe you just have too many? Support ChicoBags by sending them here:

Support Causes with Donations! www.chicobag.com
ChicoBags Company
C/O Zero Waste Program
349 Huss Drive
Chico, CA 95928

Composting Plant-Based Tote Bags

Some tote bags can even be composted because they’re made from plant fibers and organic matter. Composting allows organic materials to decompose naturally. In return, you’re left with a soil conditioner that replenishes nutrients back into the ground.

Take a look at the tote bag materials you can compost in your own backyard:

Organic Canvas/Cotton

Organic Canvas/Cotton

Jute

Jute

Hemp

Hemp

Paper

Paper

If you’re able to, cut up the totes before throwing them into your compost bin. This will help them decompose quicker. Tote bags that have been dyed aren’t recommended for composting and should be repurposed, recycled, or donated.

The Bottom Line

Tote bags can be reused multiple times, repurposed, or recycled into some pretty amazing and useful items. By saying “no” to plastic bags, you’re eliminating plastic pollution, saving the lives of animals, and increasing the longevity of the Earth’s atmosphere.

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten Ledger

Kyrsten’s vast knowledge of promotional giveaways and marketing has led to several hit articles. She has also published work for PPB Magazine, a publication from the Promotional Products Association International.