The hidden side of the symbol of everyday sustainability: cloth bags are not good for the environment, either.
Always carry a metal bottle with water to avoid having to buy a plastic bottle, move on public transport, buy products in bulk, reduce the consumption of fast fashion clothes ( fast fashion in English) and never leave home without one, or several, cloth bags.
These are some of the basic guidelines that every person aware of the climate crisis and the invasion of plastics tries to follow. Especially cotton bags, practically elevated as the symbol of everyday sustainability, as well as a fashion accessory. However, their popularity has ended up making them part of the problem due to their environmental impact .
To offset the environmental impact of producing an organic cotton bag, it must be used 20,000 times, according to a 2018 study by the Danish Ministry of the Environment and Food . In other words, a single cloth bag must be used every day for 54 years to neutralize the energy and water used in its production, as well as the added impact on the ozone layer.
Another of the hidden faces of cloth bags is that they are not easy to recycle , because it is very difficult to chemically break down the dyes that are usually used in them. In addition, you have to convert old fabric into new, a process that requires almost the same amount of energy that was used in its manufacture, according to Maxine Bédat, director of the New Standard Institute, in statements to The New York Times .
Although cotton can use pesticides and has dried up rivers due to water consumption, it is no worse than plastic and I can’t compare . It must be remembered that plastic bags are produced from fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases, never biodegrade and are destroying marine ecosystems.
Environmental decision or fashion trend?
In 2007, the British designer Anya Hindmarch created, in collaboration with the environmental agency Swift, the famous tote bag “I’m Not a Plastic Bag”, in an attempt to encourage consumers to stop buying single-use bags. In a single day, almost 100,000 people lined up in UK supermarkets to get hold of it.
What began as a commitment to sustainability soon became a brand tool and part of the shopping experience . From the New Yorker magazine , through the American cosmetics brand Kielh’s or Lush, to Uniqlo or FNAC, they all offer their customers organic cotton bags, sometimes for free and sometimes for a fee. An initiative framed as sustainable that ends up turning customers into “walking billboards,” says Shaun Russell, founder of Skandinavisk, a Swedish skincare brand, for The New York Times .
Given its popularity and the free publicity that cloth bags provide, many companies have turned to looking for solutions to make their production more sustainable, be it incorporating a greater amount of recycled cotton into the mix or giving a new life to the bottles of plastic, as is the case with Hindmarch.