What are reusable shopping bags made of? | Canvas, jute or string

Reusable shopping bags can be made of natural fabric such as canvas or jute, woven synthetic fibers or string. Canvas and jute bags are long lasting but can be resource intensive to make. Canvas is a cotton material which can take a lot of water to grow but can be many times.

Read on to find out which bag is best for you and the environment.

Why should we use reusable bags?

Single use plastic shopping bags seem to be everywhere.  In Australia there are some good efforts being made by shopping centers to reduce bag use. Some states have even banned plastic bags.

The World Counts has a running calculator that shows how many plastic bags are being produced worldwide.  The number is around 5 trillion for 1 year or 160,000 per second.

A normal plastic bag can take 400 to 1000 years to degrade depending on which environment  it ends up in. We know now that ‘plastic islands’ have been floating around in the ocean for years, made up mostly of plastic bags.

These plastics degrade into smaller and smaller particles and can contaminate soils and oceans. Sea and land animals can also ingest these plastic products.  We know now that we need to move away from single use plastic products to more sustainable options.

Top 4 reusable shopping bags options

1. Canvas bags

Canvas is a great looking option for your shopping trips.  Canvas is a natural material, it is made of cotton and has excellent strength to weight ratio.  That means you can carry a heavy load in your bags. I know when I head back from the store, I almost always end up with all of my heavy items in one bag.  Canvas will be strong enough to hold heavy items.

Canvas is strong but it is also light, they are made using a plain weave process which is why they are so strong but remain a light fabric.  They are really durable so will always outlast a single use plastic bag.

I have had canvas bags for years, carrying books back and forth to work.  They can be washed in your normal washing machine and hung out on the line. They are also recyclable. They can be recycled where you would recycle clothes.

2. Jute Bags

Jute bags are made out of a natural vegetable fiber that is spun into strong, coarse threads. Most people will associate jute with the plant fiber that is used to make hessian, burlap or gunny cloth.  It has an affordable production cost and sits second in popularity to cotton.

Jute bags are a better choice than single use plastic bags for a few reasons. The fiber is a plant fiber to is biodegradable and compostable. They can be used many times and are very strong.  Jute is a crop that uses less pesticides and fertilizers than other crops because it is an incredibly hardy plant.

The crop is also space efficient so has a high yield for the area it takes up.   This reduces the need to clear more land for farming. Jute bags are a hardwearing choice that will stand up to your heavy groceries.

3. String bags

String bags are a great choice.  They are flexible so will stretch to the size of the shopping you put in them.  Choose string bags that are made from 100% cotton to avoid any unnecessary added synthetics.  This will also mean they are 100% biodegradable as the cotton will break down.

String bags are great because they fold down to a really small size, that means you can keep them in your handbag and always have them with you. I know there have been many times when I have been out and about and grabbed some extra groceries. Having your reusable bags with you makes it easier to avoid plastic.

4. Make your own reusable bags

If you are crafty you can have a go at making your own reusable shopping bags.  If you have material laying around or perhaps have something old you can reuse like old clothes, it is a great way to avoid waste.

If you are going to buy material to make your bag, try to choose a natural fiber like cotton or hessian. Making sure we use a biodegradable material helps to reduce plastic waste from entering the environment. 

What is the best bag for the environment?

There are actually lots of considerations when deciding what bag is best for the environment. The answer itself is actually pretty tricky. Studies that look at the whole life cycle of the bag take into consideration many things including production, transport and waste.  This is where it gets quite complex. Cotton bags are often criticized for the amount of water and fertilizers needed to produce them.

Other considerations include how long they last, if they break down or if they can be made out of recycled materials.  Plastic bags made out of recycled materials often come out on top of these studies. One of the biggest considerations I have is the production of plastic waste.

Studies have shown that a ‘green bag’ needs to be used at least 11 times before it becomes better than a single use plastic bag.  A ‘green bag’ is typically made from a synthetic material and quite common in Australia. I have been using some green bags for over 5 years now and they are still going strong.  I think sometimes the best bag is the one we already have so we aren’t producing more products and more waste.

Check out this great video that talks about why some reusable bags may not be as good as you think.

What are reusable bags made of? – Summary

There are lots of options when it comes to choosing eco friendly reusable bags instead of plastic.  When it is time to upgrade the bags I would like to go for a natural material that isn’t full of dyes.  I’m going to be looking out for some nice sturdy jute bags to carry my groceries, but for now I’ll use what I have.  What bags do you use when you head to the grocery store?