How to Choose Your Reusable Shopping Bag

A Guide To Choosing Calico, Tote And Other Recyclable Bags

Rick LeBlanc

Did you know that the annual worldwide consumption of disposable plastic shopping bags is somewhere between 500 billion and 1 trillion? Even at the low end of the estimate, this works out to to more than a whopping million created per minute. Given the limited success in recycling programs for shopping bags, for decades now, there has been considerable controversy as to whether they should be banned.

While it’s great to focus on more eco-friendly ways to cart our groceries home, it does raise another problem of knowing which reusable, recyclable tote bags to choose, as there is such a variety from which to select, ranging from jute and calico bags to hemp and polypropylene. Let's take a closer look.


Polypropylene & Polyethylene

Both of these substances are forms of plastic. Tote bags made from these substances can be recycled, are strong and durable, can be made from recyclable materials, are chemical resistant, and are very cheap to produce. They are, however, often considered low quality and wear out very quickly, are made from fossil fuels, and recycling facilities aren’t available everywhere.



This is a plant fibre that can be spun into coarse, strong threads (often known as hessian). These bags are biodegradable, made from one the strongest natural fibres in existence, are relatively cheap to buy, durable, and require little water to grow.

They are, however, not very resistant to moisture (unless chemically treated), can be grown with the use of pesticides, and are often imported.



This is a cotton rich fabric that is unbleached and not fully processed. Calico bags are much kinder to the environment (as a result of less chemical usage), relatively cheap to produce, are very strong and quite durable.

They are, however, not water resistant (unless chemically treated), often require huge amounts of pesticides to grow, and are very water intensive to grow.



Whilst this word does tend to stir up all sorts of controversies, it is actually a different plant from the same family as marijuana (without the hallucinogenic properties). These bags are incredibly strong and durable, are resistant to rot, and the crop can grow in poor soil. They can, however, be quite expensive as some governments are resistant to let the crops grow domestically.


Cotton & Canvas

This material is pretty self-explanatory and we encounter it nearly everyday of our lives (in clothing and so on). These tote bags have quite a soft fabric, are very durable and quite strong. They do, however, require large amounts of pesticides to grow, fully processed cotton requires extensive treatment, and it is quite a water intensive crop to grow.


No matter what bag you ultimately choose, always look for quality – the more you have to buy, the bigger the associated environmental impact. If you can afford it, try to opt for organically grown fibres and check what sorts of dyes have been used.


When it comes to choosing a reusable and/or recyclable tote bag for carrying your groceries, taking to the beach or even for running errands, it is important that you are aware of the environmental pros and cons of each.

Some (like jute, hemp and calico bags) are considered much more eco friendly than others (like polypropylene and polyethylene). We cannot, however, ignore all of the benefits that you will receive from making a switch from plastic. Additionally, be mindful that reusable bags can harbor bacteria over time, and benefit from being laundered.


Marie Safel wrote this article on behalf of Promotional Bags– Novel Tees.