Um, so it turns out tote bags aren’t actually great for the environment
What am I supposed to do with my collection now then?
What would you do without your trusty tote? It’s the bag that holds everything from your laptop, books, water bottle, chargers, random lipsticks, a half used pack of mints to years of crumbs and crumpled receipts. Not only is it useful but it’s the way to make a statement about yourself without having to say anything on that first seminar morning. Yes I buy Glossier, yes I subscribe to the New Yorker, yes I’ve read that pretentious book you haven’t heard of. And if that wasn’t all the tote bag is an easy way to signal you give a shit about the planet, except it turns out tote bags aren’t actually that great for the environment.
Yes the bag you parade around to show your sustainability could actually be having a damaging effect on the planet. From the production, to the recycling, to the sheer quantity being handed out – tote bags aren’t as eco friendly as they’d appear.
So why are tote bags bad for the environment? This is everything you need to know:
Creating bags out of cotton requires a LOT of water as in anything between 10,000 to 20,000 litres to create one kilogram of cotton.
A recent New York Times report covered a 2018 study which revealed you would have to use an organic cotton bag 20,000 times in order to offset its overall impact of production. This equates to using the same bag every day for 54 years. Now remember just how many bags you were given in one Freshers Fair and suddenly you’d need to live for a good few hundred years to offset the impact of those bags alone.
And it’s not just the use of them but recycling tote bags is actually pretty difficult. Cotton products hardly ever make it to textile recycling plants with only 15 per cent of 30 million tonnes of cotton made every year reaching one.
But tote bags are often not purely cotton as they usually contain dyes that are used to print brand logos onto the bags. Whilst this is great free marketing for a company it means the bags probably won’t be recycled because it is extremely difficult to break down the PVC used in the logos.
So do I get rid of my tote bags now then?
Don’t hurry to throw all your tote bags now, they’re still better for the planet than plastic.
However what has to be addressed is the sheer amount of tote bags being handed out. More and more brands are making a move to tote bags as a way to package and market their products. Aesop told the New York Times they don’t know how many bags they produce each year but say it’s “a lot”. And everyone from Glossier, Urban Outfitters and even your uni will have some form of tote bag available.
So rather than buying new ones or accepting them with freebies – refuse and give back the bag. You’ve already got one at home and you still need use it 19,500 more times.