At the beginning of 2019, why not make the resolution to buy an eco-friendly bag, an alternative to plastic bags, to do your shopping and carry your belongings? Inexpensive, reusable and more aesthetic than plastic, the eco-friendly shopping bag will allow you to combine civic engagement and style… while saving you from paying a few cents unnecessarily to buy a single-use bag at each checkout.
This is a resolution that is in theory quite easy to hold. It is even from this simple idea that our approach and our company were born: to offer practical, resistant and ecological shopping bags and bulk bags, in order to make your daily life easier while protecting our beautiful planet.
But that’s where the trouble starts. How do you measure the ecological impact of one shopping bag compared to another? Is it really a responsible gesture to buy this reusable polyester shopping bag? Maybe not, but how can we justify the higher price of this other cotton bag for a strictly identical use? And above all, is it really necessary to take such a step, even though some plastic bags are presented as recyclable or even compostable?
Don’t panic: in this article, we’ll try to shed some light on the options available to you by taking a look at the ecological bags on the market and identifying those that have a real impact on your way of consuming.
On the textile side: cotton cultivation
Conventional cotton cultivation
Solid, versatile, attractive and easily recyclable, the cotton bag appears to be a serious candidate for replacing plastic bags. Cotton is the world’s leading natural textile fibre and is used in a vast industrial and agricultural sector, mainly in the United States and Asia, notably in India, China, Uzbekistan and Pakistan. There are also cotton farms in Turkey, Brazil and Australia. But are all these farms the same? Do they produce fibres of homogeneous quality, and above all, what is the impact of their production methods on the environment and human health? We will see that the cotton bag, which has its natural quality and high rate of reuse, is not always a sustainable solution.
The intensive cultivation of cotton, particularly in environments where the climate is not specifically adapted to the water needs of the plants, requires the implementation of a very important irrigation policy and a constant supply of seeds. Indeed, although cotton is a sustainable species, it is generally sown and planted every year, on the model of cereal crops. Regardless of the country concerned, conventional cotton growing is therefore a demanding consumption of resources, all the more so as standardised seeds, which are less adaptable to this or that climate, require even more water, fertilisers and pesticides.
Finally, it should be noted that the need to wash pesticide-soaked fibres leads to the discharge of waste water and contributes to doubling the water consumption normally required for cotton production. These residues also include all the products used to bleach or dye textiles, with the result that the ecosystems near the factories are sometimes irretrievably devastated and the arable land is progressively impoverished. The only real advantage of the non-organic cotton shopping bag would therefore be linked to its reusability, in its original form or through fibre recycling.
The rise of organic cotton farms
Nevertheless, as the ecological and health impact of conventional cotton is becoming better and better known, manufacturers and growers are increasingly turning to organic fibres, responding not only to the challenges of preserving the raw material through the fertility of cultivated areas, but also to a growing demand for traceability of the sector expressed by end consumers.
Organic cotton, which is more resistant and more respectful of the environment as well as of the health of farmers and consumers, will therefore be favoured over plastic, paper or even non-organic cotton. The youthfulness of this sector and the attention paid to the quality of the finished products may, it is true, make the purchase of an organic cotton bag a more important investment; nevertheless, this expense is very quickly paid back and is also justified by the possibilities that are developing in terms of style and design. Especially in these prosperous times when the tote bag is the latest fashion!
To better evaluate the reliability of the different organic cotton certifications, you can also refer to our file on the labels used by the textile industry, in order to make sure of the reality of the social and environmental commitment of your suppliers.
Other organic textile alternatives
The specificity of the climate in which cotton grows optimally, the need to diversify the types of textiles used to meet customer demands and the growth of “made in France” are also pushing companies to turn to other textile fibres, whose organic sectors are still in the development phase but whose future prospects are promising.
Linen, whose cultivation requires great technical mastery and is carried out on fairly long rotations (every 6 to 7 years), is gradually gaining its place in the modern textile industry. It has the advantage that it prepares the soil very well for other crops, requires only small amounts of water and has an absolutely positive carbon balance. Cultivated mainly in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, it also allows the constitution of local textile production chains – at least in theory, given the preponderance of China in the weaving and dyeing of fibres: it is in fact in China that most of the combers, spinners, weavers and linen knitters have been relocated. 70% of exports to China come from France : there is still room for progress in this respect! Moreover, linen has thermo-regulating, absorbent and anti-allergic properties known since ancient times, and is as strong and durable as cotton, making it a material of choice for making clothes or shopping bags.
Contrary to what one might think, bamboo is very rarely sold in its natural fibre form. This is the case when the fibres come from bast (plant tissue between the bark and the wood) or from dried and cut parts of the plant, in which case the product is labelled “bamboo fibre”. This name is a guarantee of quality, as opposed to the term ‘bamboo viscose’, which indicates that the fibres have been obtained from bamboo pulp that has been reduced to a powder and then reconditioned using solvents such as caustic soda, sodium sulphate, carbon disulphide or sulphuric acid, all of which are harmful to human health and the surrounding environment. After such a heavy treatment, the natural properties of bamboo, recognized as very resistant, antibacterial, anti-UV and deodorant, have also disappeared.
Marketed mainly by the Austrian company Lenzing under the name Tencel, lyocell is a textile made from wood pulp, fully biodegradable and recyclable. The raw materials used may be bamboo, eucalyptus or beech, but lyocell itself is not a natural fibre: in fact, the wood pulp is transformed into textile fibre using a recyclable and non-toxic organic solvent, NNMO (N-methylmorpholine N-oxide monohydrate) .
Hemp and jute are returned to the market
Hemp and jute were considered unglamorous because of their history of making farm bags, and were set aside by the clothing and accessory industry for many years. Nevertheless, their resistance and predisposition for organic farming have put them back in fashion, and they are now used in the manufacture not only of bags and upholstery fabrics, but also of accessories and clothing. Cultivated in a reasoned crop rotation, both jute and hemp contribute to soil regeneration and to the better health of the species grown before or after them.