Debunking the Hoax Surrounding Cotton Totes as an Alternative to Plastic Bags

We live in a time, where it is the most essential for an individual to carefully monitor their consumption patterns as well as beware and manage how their practices contribute to the global carbon footprints. Be it day to day activities such as going out for grocery shopping, or even cleaning, we as environmentally aware citizens of planet Earth tend to make choices which are sustainable, and eco-friendly in their respective attributes. One of the many major movements for environmental awareness in the last decades, the use of single-use plastic shopping bags has been put to blame for deteriorating and polluting the planet, and with that many alternative solutions had emerged, all thanks to the eye-catching fashion industry and their creative marketing strategies. One such alternative that had emerged over the years, or the long-hailed ‘solution’ for an eco-friendly carry bag option is the Tote Bag. This accessory had become a mainstay in both the fashion industry, as well as for the mass use as part of the sustainable fashion campaign. But are cotton tote bags really an eco-friendly alternative?

Both Plastic bags, and cotton tote bags, or even paper bags, when kept relatively in comparison as the best alternative for eco-friendly alternatives, could only be determined by each’s carbon footprint, both during and post-production, their potential to be reused and recycled, as well as their capability to degrade after utilization. The conventional Plastic carry bags are mainly high-density Polyethylene (HDPE) and Low-Density Polyethylene (LDPE) which requires heavy coal and petroleum based industrial production methods to create thin sheets of plastic product cut into bags which estimately contributes as 1.6kg of Carbon Emission into the environment just during the production period per plastic bag. Other contender in the series, that is paper bags, are a bi-product of deforested tree barks that leads to disturbing the carbon equilibrium by increasing the CO2 emissions by 5.6 kg into the environment per paper bag. Furthermore, the cotton tote bags are secondary products of cotton weaving where growing cotton itself is an extensively water and energy consuming process, for which the production of a single cotton tote bag leads the CO2 emissions approximately by 272 kg. According to The Circular Library, it takes around 10,000-20,000 litres of water to produce one kilogram of cotton which is further processed more through heating processes, all achieved through coal and petroleum. When compared in the measure of each other’s carbon footprint, it seems plastic bags are less hefty to the planet’s burden, but there is more to it. 

Into the bargain for each’s carbon footprint whilst production, each of the product's attributes of being more environment-friendly could also be determined by consumption patterns and their ability to be reused in the natural state. Evidently, paper bags have a natural tendency to tear easily, so they are used less 4 or 3 times, which foresees the equate with plastic bags having lesser carbon emission during production, yet also be hardly reused only once. The same applies of HDPE Plastic bags which are commonly hailed as ‘single use plastics’ and are rarely reused. Fortunately, researchers have found that due to increased ecological awareness, approximately 40% of these single use plastic products are being reused more than once. Cotton Totes on the other fold, could blatantly be lowered if used above approximately 131 and more times which equates it to its stupendous amount of Carbon emissions during its production period, per product.

Moreover, what also plays as a vital deterrent of which alternative is better in terms of resource efficient, as well as environmentally fit, is their capability to degrade and decompose faster. What must be noted in such cases that as most countries lack a well-developed and executed infrastructure into waste management and decomposition, and also to efficiently recycle even plastic bags, wherein cotton totes are perhaps even more difficult to process and recycle, it clearly depends over consumers to reuse the plastic bags and cotton totes and maintain the equilibrium at their part, which on an ideal level is practically impossible. HDPE Plastic bags tend to be extremely capable in the fields of heat resistance and insolubility, which makes them stick around for substantial period of time at landfills, or pollute natural body-based habitats. Such partially broken plastic material roams around ecosystems for centuries to come and go before being completely decomposed. Paper bags on the other hand takes a matter of days to break-down completely, cotton totes, which in relative to that, takes up a matter of several substantial months.

The evolution and the elevation of Cotton Totes in the fashion industry, and soon its takeover as a status symbol led to its extensive over-production, which eventually takes decades to negate the combined environmental impact caused per product. A study done by Ministry of Environment, Denmark in 2018 concluded that organic cotton totes are worse off than conventional cotton in terms of overall environmental impact, and that, it needs to be reused approximately 7000 times to equate to the latter's impact. Several mainstream brands are looking into more sustainable spheres of the cotton tote and its increased demands with a 60:40 blend of recycled to organic cotton, yet many continue to bulk produce these products, and we as consumers must know that the ‘ethical’ has been long lost in the ‘sustainable’ fashion.

 

Have you shopped from us? You must have seen we use compostible corn starch mailer bags to package our products while shipping them to you. This is our way of contributing to the betterment of our planet. 
Do drop in your suggestions if we can implement greener solutions in our offering. Mail us at hello@chowdhrain.com

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