Going "green" and choosing "eco-friendly" products like big jute bags is popular these days. However, there is some discussion about what it means to be eco-friendly. For some, it means using things that do not pollute oceans, streams, and landfills. For others, this extends to manufacturing processes; they prefer using things that use water, fossil fuels and other resources sustainably.
Fans of this definition of sustainability argue that to make a single cargo tote, you need resources for as much as 400 plastic bags. Some research supports this. According to experts at Denmark's Ministry of Environment and Food, using plastic shopping bags could be better for the environment than cotton or paper bags.
In their study, they found that a consumer needs to reuse cotton tote bags 7,100 times to match a classic plastic bag's environmental impact. Furthermore, they discovered that organic cotton shopping bags are more damaging; shoppers need to use them 20,000 times for them to be more eco-friendly than plastic bags.
In another study, this time by the UK Environment Agency, researchers found that you need to use canvas bags thousands of times to be a greener choice than a plastic bag. Paper bags did not fare any better; they report that you need to use these three times or more to be as eco-friendly as plastic.
Although these are worrying statistics, neither paper looked at the impact of plastic on our oceans.
The effect of plastic waste on our oceans
According to the United Nations, marine debris affects over 800 species. About 80 per cent of that debris is plastic waste; every year, we throw 13 million metric tonnes of plastic in the ocean. That works out to one truckload of waste per minute.
Some plastics end up on the ocean floor, others wash up on beaches, and some get mistaken for food by marine life. A single plastic bag takes anywhere from ten to 1,000 years to decompose, and a plastic bottle takes about 500 years. These items end up in ocean gyres, which get ground up into pieces and end up in seafood people eat.
How to make cargo tote bags truly eco-friendly
Cotton is unparalleled in versatility. You can produce canvas and tote bags from this material quickly. However, the manufacturing process is water-intensive, and it impacts availability negatively.
To manufacture a single outfit—a cotton t-shirt and a pair of jeans—you need 20,000 litres of fresh water. In developing countries where there are substandard irrigation methods and lack of green education, cotton production takes up a considerable amount of their already scarce fresh water supply.
To address these and create real eco-canvas fabrics, non-profit organizations like the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) partners with retailers like Nike, IKEA, C&A, and Esprit, helping cotton farmers reduce the costs associated with production.
IKEA, for instance, launched in 2005 a program that teaches farmers how to plant cotton strategically. By 2011, they reduced water use for cotton production in the area to 37 per cent. What's more, the company reports that nearly 25 per cent of the 200,000 tons of cotton they use every year is already sustainably sourced.
There is no magic bullet that would turn our global supply chain green and sustainable. Since much of the world relies on overproduction, we have to unlearn many things before we can say we are truly eco-friendly. Initiatives like IKEA's and BCI's, however, are a step in the right direction.
If you're looking for sustainable and ethical bags, look no further than ShoreBags. We produce eco-friendly accessories like canvas boat tote bags and city shopper bags, suitable for all types of events. We also care about more than the bottom line, as our socially responsible manufacturing processes show. Get in touch with us to learn more!