Eco friendly bags for retail to remove sinlge-use plastic waste

Eco friendly bags for retail address the damaging environmental impact of the common, single-use plastic (polyethylene) bag.

These plastic bags aren’t biodegradable, meaning they reside in the environment and take up to 1000 years to break down. And even then, the bags only break down to remain as microplastics that accumulate within the food chain.

Secondly, with regard to production, plastic bags contribute to global warming by releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 6% of the world’s oil resources are used to make plastic, and 40% of this plastic is processed to manufacture plastic bags.

Yet, despite these environmental effects, 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year (that’s 83 bags used per person per year). This continued use poses significant environmental challenges that need to be addressed.

And to address this issue we’ve produced this Green Business Bureau article, to explain how your retail business can make a difference by seeking eco friendly plastic bag alternatives. We present eight alternative materials to be used in place of the standard polyethylene bag and compare the environmental impact of each. We then detail eight providers of eco friendly bags to help your business meet your green goals.

Top 4 reasons to switch to eco friendly bags for retail

Why is it important to use eco friendly bags for retail? To answer this question, we’ve detailed four reasons why you should make the change below.

Eco friendly bags cause less water and land pollution

Plastic bags are lightweight, meaning they travel long distances through the wind and water. Here, they can get caught in trees and fences, clog waterways, and eventually make their way into oceans.

As already mentioned, once in the environment, plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to break down, and when they do break down, the microplastic byproducts remain in the environment and accumulate up the food chain. Showcasing the extent of this pollution, the first oceanographic study conducted in 2014 examined the amount of near-surface plastic debris. This study discovered that there were at least 5.25 trillion individual plastic particles weighing roughly 244,000 metric tons floating on or near the ocean surface. These plastics are ingested by wildlife, as we can see from the video below (note this video is upsetting).

Microplastics enter food chains, transferring from one species to another. Today, studies have found microplastics in food items such as tea, salt, milk, seafood, sugar, beer, vegetables, and soft drinks. Ingested plastics – plus other pollutants – are toxic. We are already witnessing these toxic effects on large mammals as we see in the video below (again, note this video is upsetting). The dury is out to find out the full effects of these plastics on human health.

Eco friendly bags reduce the carbon footprint of operations

Most plastic bags are made of polyethylene – a substance made from crude oil refinement and natural gas processing. Oil and natural gas are non-renewable, fossil fuel-based resources, meaning that when they’re extracted and produced, they emit greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. The carbon footprint of plastic is ~6kg CO2 per kg. The weight of an average plastic bag is ~32.5g. Using these figures, we estimate that 5 plastic bags will release 1kg of CO2.

The production of plastic bags is energy-intensive. For instance, ~0.48 megajoules of energy is consumed to make a single plastic bag. Putting this figure into perspective, this is equivalent to the amount of energy needed to drive a car over a distance of 1 kilometer. And this energy-sapping nature of production seems futile when we consider the fact that the typical useful life of a polyethylene bag is ~12 minutes.

Eco friendly bag alternatives are less harmful to wildlife

By contributing to climate change, plastic bags indirectly harm wildlife. Yet, plastic bags also cause direct harm to the species we share our planet with. For instance, birds can mistake shredded plastic bags for food, and on eating this plastic, they fill their stomachs with toxic debris. In another example, the “save the turtles” campaign addresses the negative impact plastic bags have on sea turtles which mistake the bags for jellyfish. When a marine animal digests plastic, it can cause health issues such as infections, painful intestinal blockage, starvation, or death by suffocation.

Fish eat thousands of tons of plastic a year, transferring microplastics up the food chain to bigger fish and marine mammals. These plastics contain a cocktail of pollutants known as endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) which disrupt hormones and affect the growth and reproductive success of marine and terrestrial life.

Eco friendly bags reduce costs and extend business value

Reusable bags are one effective, eco friendly bag option that also works to reduce business costs and extend value. Reusable bags are made to be more durable than plastic or paper bags and can be reused as many times as needed. Hence, they are less harmful to the environment. As such, states across the US have introduced a plastic ban tax including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, New York, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington. This plastic bag tax means it’s now cost-effective for a business to introduce reusable alternatives into the value chain.

On top of this, offering branded reusable bags is a low-cost marketing effort. You can sell reusable bags with designs on them, making them better looking and more fashionable while at the same time building your brand. Most people who receive reusable bags will use them many times over, showcasing your branding to the world.

Plus, reusable bags are what consumers seek. Studies show that 73% of shoppers own custom reusable bags. Hence, providing these bags extends your business offering, giving buyers extra value from supporting your brand.

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Plastic bag alternatives: Comparing the environmental impact of plastic material substitutes

Thinking about the above reasons, it’s apparent that making the switch to using eco friendly bags for retail is good business. Doing so not only bolsters your bottom line but will also benefit society and the environment. In the next section of this article, we present eco friendly materials that can be used as substitutes for plastic.

Paper bags

Paper bags are 100% biodegradable meaning they can be used for composting. Plus, paper is both reusable and recyclable (although the number of times these bags can be recycled is limited). Paper bags, therefore, remove the environmental issue of plastic waste and pollution.

However, the paper production process is resource-heavy. It’s been shown that manufacturing a paper bag demands ~4 times as much energy as it does to produce a plastic bag. Plus the chemicals and fertilizers used will cause additional environmental harm. Further studies indicate that a single paper bag needs to be used anywhere from 3-43 times to neutralize its impact on the environment.

Taking these issues into account, it’s best practice to source alternative materials – not paper or polyethylene – when thinking about eco friendly bags for retail.

Cotton bags

Cotton bags are both biodegradable and reusable, and are made from natural and renewable sources. In theory, cotton bags safeguard the environment by preventing plastic pollution from contaminating the environment.

However, a 2018 study stated that a single organic cotton bag would need to be used 20,000 times to offset its environmental impact. This is because of the large amount of energy and water needed to produce these bags. For instance, one tote cotton bag is estimated to use 10,000 – 20,000 liters of water to produce 1kg of cotton.

With this in mind, the environmental benefits that come from using cotton bags are only apparent when one bag is purchased and used over a long period of time.

Jute bags

Jute is an edible leafy vegetable, also known as golden fiber. It’s a long and shiny fiber made from cellulose and lignin material obtained from the jute plant. Once processed, the Jute fiber is used to make rope, bags, carpets, and much more.

Jute is renowned for its eco friendly credentials. This is because the material is completely biodegradable. Plus the plant soaks up greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) during its growth, making these species effective carbon sinks. For example, one study showed the C02 assimilation rate of jute is several times higher than that of trees. Jute plants are typically farmed in organic and traditional conditions, meaning the crop has a low water footprint.

Jute bags are affordable and easily available, plus the material is both strong and durable. Hence, these bags can be designed in any shape you prefer to suit your target market.


Polypropylene (PP) is a cheap and durable plastic material and has a variety of uses. PP is used for reusable bags replacing polyethylene used for the traditional single-use plastic bag. Being plastic-based, how do the environmental credentials of PP bags stack up against polyethylene bags?

When we compare the carbon footprint of common plastics, PP has the lowest. That is, the carbon footprint of PP is 1.95-3kg of CO2 per kg, compared to 6kg of C02 per kg for polyethylene.

In addition, although PP is not biodegradable, the material degradation time is a lot shorter (20-30 years) compared to the 1000 years previously mentioned for polyethylene bags. Yet, PP is fully recyclable and doesn’t release harmful chemicals into the environment during the recycling process.

The use of PP reusable bags encourages a movement away from single-use plastic products. Yet, PP bags need to be used 45 times to have the same environmental impact as single-use plastic bags. This makes these bags a better choice than reusable cotton bags but also highlights the fact these bags must be used over the long term for the environmental benefits to be realized.


Hemp is a drought-tolerant plant that thrives without the need for fertilizers or pesticides, and also replenishes soil quality as they grow. In addition, the hemp plant is an excellent carbon sink such that one hectare of industrial hemp can absorb 15 tonnes of C02. The plant’s rapid growth makes it the fastest C02-to-biomass conversion tool available, more efficient than agro-forestry. On top of this, as a natural material, hemp products are biodegradable.

Hemp is a robust and durable material making it an excellent, eco friendly substitute for plastic bags. In fact, hemp plastics are five times stiffer and 2.5 times stronger than polypropylene just discussed.


Nylon is another synthetic plastic material that is derived from crude oil and used as a substitute for silk in fabrics. Nylon reusable bags are known to be durable, strong, lightweight, readily foldable, easily dyed, and water-resistant. This makes these bags more durable, and appropriate for continued use when compared to polyethylene bags, helping to reduce plastic waste.

However, nylon bags come with their own set of environmentally damaging issues. For one, nylon is not biodegradable. However, the material does only take 30-40 years to break down – a much shorter amount of time than plastic bags.

Secondly, the greenhouse gases released during nylon production are 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

Thirdly the manufacturing of nylon is a very thirsty process. A large volume of water is used to cool the fibers, which can be a source of environmental contamination and pollution.

In summary, nylon bags are more environmentally friendly than traditional polyethylene plastic bags, but only when these bags are kept out of landfill sites and reused over a long period. Because nylon bags are more durable, lightweight, and have a fair amount of water-resistant properties, it’s easier to continue to reuse them.


Polyester is another synthetic fabric that’s derived from petroleum. This fabric is the world’s most popular textile and is used for thousands of different consumer and industrial applications.

Reusable polyester tote bags are easily portable shopping bags made from thin but durable polyester material. Because polyester is lighter and thinner than most plastics, the manufacturing of polyester bags is less damaging to the planet. For instance, just 89g of GHG emissions are released to manufacture bags made from polyester material, which is equivalent to manufacturing just seven disposable polyethylene shopping bags.

However, as a form of plastic, polyester bags remain polluting to the environment, both during production and disposal.

Compostable bags

Compostable bags aren’t reusable, but they are designed to completely degrade in a compost bin or pile. These bags are derived from natural, renewable resources such as sugar can, potato starch, or other biologically-sourced polymers. When compostable bags are discarded, their natural breakdown enriches soils.

It’s important to not get compostable bags mixed up with biodegradable bags. The latter will break down into smaller pieces, hence you can get biodegradable plastics. Yet, once these plastics have broken down, they still contaminate the environment.

Compostable bags reduce landfill waste by diverting the demand for plastic away from the waste stream. However, compostable bags are single-use, meaning a circular economy is not supported. With a take-use-waste mindset, these bags still demand energy and resources for their production – which is wasted once they’re disposed of.

9 providers of eco friendly bags for retail

To help your business make a difference, below we’ve listed eight eco friendly bag providers to add to your supply chain.

#1: Reuse This Bag

Reuse This Bag supplies custom woven polypropylene, non-woven polypropylene, cotton, jute, and many more eco friendly bags and material types. Many of these bags are made from 100% recycled materials too. Customers are offered imprinted and promotional reusable bags. These bags are high-quality, inexpensive options. Bag solutions offered include reusable grocery bags, wine, and beer bags, woven bags, drawstring bags, and many more.

Reuse This Bag as a business was created to remove plastic and paper bags from the market. For instance, the Original Standard Grocery Bag is known to have saved over 300 paper and plastic bags from ever hitting the market.

Click here to access Reuse This Bag’s reusable bags!

#2: Earthwise Bags

Earthwise Bags promote themselves as an innovator of reusable bags, pushing functionality and aesthetics. The brand has a full line of shopping bags, multi-use tote bags, insulated bags, wine bags, and product bags.

Over the last 15 years, the Earthwise bags program has continued to expand to include dozens of bag styles. The brand’s aim is to reduce plastic bag pollution while also making a positive difference to the environment and society, which the brand does via supporting non-profit organizations.

Click here to access Earthwise’s reusable bags!

#3: EcoBags

EcoBags is a B-Corp certified business, with the mission to offer thoughtful, ethically, and sustainably sourced and durable-reusable bags, which are developed based on the 3 R concept of reduce, reuse, and recycle. The provider makes business choices based on the two age-old sayings: “Leave no trace” and “do no harm“.

EcoBags sell reliable, durable cloth bags. Products include tote, string, lunch, produce, shopping, spa, and travel bags.

Click here to access EcoBag’s reusable bags!

#4: ChicoBag

ChicoBag is a certified B Corporation, a member of 1% For The Planet, and operates as a Climate Neutral Business. Hence, this brand’s products meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, balancing profit with purpose.

ChicoBag stands out in the market as this brand looks to offer more stylish and fashionable reusable bag options. Products are organized as per their use category: Shopping, travel, organization, and outdoor activities. Most of the bags can be folded up into a small pouch, which customers can keep in their pockets or purse.

Click here to access ChicoBag’s reusable bags!

#5: BioBag

BioBag International AS is a certified provider of compostable and biodegradable products. The brand’s main goal is to combine concentrating on the quality of existing products and the innovation of new products and concepts. The mission at BioBags is to develop, produce, and market the best bio-based products for industries within waste management, retail, hotel and catering, industrial applications, and agriculture. All products are made using renewable, biodegradable, and compostable raw materials.

Click here to access BioBag’s compostable bags!

#6: Jute Cotton Bag

The mission at Jute Cotton Bag is to bring the finest, quality jute bags to you within affordable price brackets. Products are farmed organically to produce reusable items that quickly decompose when added to a landfill after no longer than 2 years.

Jute Cotton Bag is a leading manufacturer, wholesaler, and exporter of a wide range of Jute Bags. The brand provides a range of jute promotional, shopping, fancy, trade show, wine, drawstring, cosmetic, backpack, gift, and duffel bags.

Click here to access Jute Cotton Bag’s reusable bags!

#7: Hemp Foundation

The Hemp Foundation is a social enterprise that promotes the farming of the hemp crop, a plant native to the Himalayas that has the potential to lift communities out of poverty. The Hemp Foundation informed villagers about the immense inherent power of hemp farming and used their conventional knowledge to optimize hemp production in the lap of the mountains. The foundation trained villagers in making products that would find buyers around the world.

The Hemp Foundation provides the best quality bulk Hemp Bags. The business also manufactures and supplies other hemp products.

Click here to access the Hemp Foundation’s reusable bags!

#8: EnviroPackaging

EnviroPackaging combines innovation, efficiency, professionalism, and environmental stewardship to reduce packaging pollution, especially in regard to pollution from plastic waste. EnviroPackaging provides recycled, recyclable, reusable, and also biodegradable options for sustainable packaging.

Bag products include kraft shopping bags, euro tote bags, grocery and take-out bags, and tamper-safe recycled bags.

Click here to access EnviroPackaging’s reusable bags!

#9: Lotus Sustainables

Designing bags sustainably means designing them to last. Lotus Sustainables prioritizes quality to ensure their eco-friendly trolley bags hold up over time. Lotus products streamline your shopping experience and help you live an eco-friendlier life.

Certify your achievements with green business certification

As a business working to reduce your environmental impact, you deserve recognition for your efforts. Green business certification is a third-party provider that will support your business and the green developments you make. From switching to eco friendly packaging, removing plastic from your value chain, and doing away with single-use items – plus more – green business certification will keep track of the developments you make and help you celebrate your achievements.

The Green Business Bureau (GBB) is a globally recognized provider of green business certification. You can assess your business against over 500+ initiatives designed to support a sustainable business using GBB’s EcoAssessment and EcoPlanner. Track your progress, and showcase your goals to key stakeholders with your very own clickable Green Seal of approval – which you can showcase on your company’s website.

It’s important that, as a sustainable business, you address unsustainability across every business process. The GBB is a guide that will help you do just that. Sign up for the Green Business Bureau to gain the recognition you deserve for switching to eco friendly plastic bag alternatives, plus more environmentally friendly developments you make.


Sustainability Guide for Retail Businesses: Getting Started

Learn about the key first-steps your retail business can take on its greening journey in the first installment of GBBs new Sustainability Guide for Retail Businesses.
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Join the discussion One Comment

  • Brion Crum says:

    I am amazed after all of the information about the negative impacts of plastics especially bags for the environment, that large organizations like Walmart whose founders invest into other sustainability initiatives that they haven’t come out with policies to encourage re-usable bags or outright ban non-biodegradable bags from their stores.

    Rob and Melanie Walton are amazing philanthropists especially in Arizona as it relates to sustainability. Would be interesting to hear the feedback from their corporate sustainability leaders. Maybe it is on their radar and in planning process.

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