As the year 2021 draws to a close, why not make a resolution to buy yourself an eco-friendly, personalized and colorful tote bag? This tote bag is a real alternative to plastic bags for shopping and transporting your belongings. Inexpensive, reusable and more aesthetically pleasing than plastic, the Mouettes Vertes ecological, colorful, personalized tote bag will enable you to combine civic commitment and style...
In theory, this is an easy resolution to keep. At Les Mouettes Vertes, it is even from this simple idea that our approach and our company were born: to propose personalized, practical, resistant and ecological tote bags to facilitate your daily life while protecting the planet.
But that's where the trouble begins. How do you measure the ecological impact of one shopping bag versus another? Is it really responsible to buy that personalized reusable polyester tote? How do you justify the higher price of that other colorful cotton tote bag, customized for strictly the same purpose? Is it really necessary to take such a step, even though some plastic bags are presented as recyclable or even compostable?
Don't panic: in this article, we'll try to enlighten you on the options available to you, by taking a look at the customized eco-bags available on the market and by identifying those that have a real impact on the way you consume.
First observation: too much plastic
Traditional plastic bags
A major industrial innovation of the last century, plastic appears in many forms in our daily lives. Its versatility has made it an essential packaging material, from beauty products to food, furniture, transportation, and even our clothing and jewelry. The advantages of its use hide many flaws in the long run. If plastic is very useful, especially as a packaging or container; on the other hand, its recycling remains difficult to implement and constitutes a real environmental and sanitary issue.
One aspect of the problem is the stability of plastics, which guarantees their effectiveness when it comes to the preservation of food in airtight containers, for example. Slow to degrade, plastic remains in its original form for up to several hundred years and represents a real danger for the ecosystems in which it is released. This is for example the case for marine environments, which collect up to 8 million tons of untreated plastic every year. Plastic bags, cotton buds, water bottles and other waste are thus ingested by marine fauna, contributing to the decimation of some of its rarest representatives: turtles or marine birds often mistake plastic waste for prey, and die from poisoning or suffocation.
Moreover, the degradation of plastic, when it eventually occurs, does not improve the situation in any way. Indeed, plastic has the particularity of not being assimilated by micro-organisms, but of breaking down into increasingly fine particles. Ingested by the fauna and in particular by the fish which man is fond of, these particles penetrate the food chain and are lodged in our own tissues. Toxic in high doses, and attached to the long list of endocrine disruptors, they harm our health as well as that of other species.
As such, reducing our consumption of plastic seems essential and requires greater vigilance on our part: plastic is indeed not immediately identifiable in all its uses. The presence of plastic microbeads is common in some cosmetic products, such as skin scrubs, and plastic is found in derivative forms in many shower gels or toothpastes: it is indeed the plastic that ensures the smoothness of these products. As far as textiles are concerned, synthetic fibers such as polyester and its derivatives or acrylic are forms of plastic, and if they have the advantage of resistance and flexibility, on the other hand, they are in no way a sustainable solution when used in fast fashion: the clothes are indeed thrown away even before they are worn out. Finally, their recycling is costly and still little practiced, especially in the case of textiles composed of both synthetic and natural fibers, which should be separated in order to treat them differently.
In this perspective, buying a tote bag made of polyester, polypropylene (a material used by the majority of accessible luxury brands, which reminds a bit of felt) or acrylic is not a real ecological alternative. Moreover, the vast majority of these shopping bags are colored with unnatural dyes and contribute to soil and water pollution. It is therefore better to choose natural bags and fibers, provided that they have obtained the labels proving their harmlessness for the environment and health.
The case of bioplastics
To overcome the difficulties associated with conventional plastics, new forms of plastic called "biosourced" or "biodegradable" have been developed to reduce the environmental impact of bags and packaging used in the retail sector. As such, is it really necessary to turn to natural fibers, and ban single-use plastic?
In reality, these products are not a viable alternative in terms of eco-responsibility. Indeed, behind the attractive names mentioned above, materials whose natural or biodegradable character remains very limited, and which even introduce new biases of complexity in the treatment of plastics at the end of life. It should be noted in particular that the term "biodegradable" has not been the subject of any strict regulation for products other than packaging: it can therefore be abused by producers of plastic materials adept at greenwashing.
Biobased plastics are plastics whose raw materials are entirely or partly renewable, i.e. non-petrochemical. They can be vegetable, animal, residual or algal. However, the share of renewable materials in biobased plastics is not regulated by any text to date: they can be composed in part of conventional plastic. They are not systematically biodegradable, and their recycling is difficult to implement because they are difficult to differentiate from other plastics when one tries to sort them: they are therefore mostly buried or incinerated. Finally, their environmental balance is not well known, because their methanogenic properties, their recyclability as well as their biodegradable or non-biodegradable character remain to be determined. In short, it is an opaque sector, whose production and reprocessing costs are still too high to make it an interesting alternative, not to mention that its "green" dimension is debated.
As for biodegradable plastics, even if they present advantages, their sector is still far from being perfectly structured, and contrary to what the term "biodegradable" could let think, their environmental impact is not null. For the record, a material is said to be biodegradable "if it can be decomposed under the action of micro-organisms (bacteria, fungi, algae ...). The result is the formation of water, CO2 and / or methane and possibly by-products (residues, new biomass) non-toxic to the environment, "says the Ademe.
Biodegradable plastics are therefore composed of polymers that decompose without harming the environment, whether these polymers are of natural or petrochemical origin. However, these plastics are also composed ofadditives andplasticizing ingredients whose long-term effects on the environment are particularly doubtful. Moreover, their degradation mode is often long and technically complex to implement, provided of course that they are collected and sorted beforehand, which is an additional difficulty.
Finally, these two categories of bioplastics should not be confused with oxo-degradable or oxo-fragmentable plastics, which are neither composed of natural or recycled ingredients nor biodegradable, but break down more rapidly into particles that are just as harmful as ordinary plastics.
Plastics, whether in their best-known forms or in their latest technological developments, are therefore the ugly duckling in terms of eco-responsibility: their effects are poorly understood, their recycling is limited, and the complexity of their composition makes it difficult to communicate them accurately to consumers. Moreover, even with efficient recycling, it is necessary to mix old plastic with new plastic to obtain quality products. The use of plastic, even if it is rational, can only lead to an increase in the presence of this material in ecosystems, with the harmful consequences that we know.
Splendor and misery of the paper industry
After the ban on plastic bags in French stores in 2017, many supermarkets have therefore turned to the paper bag, both for carrying bulk fruits and vegetables and the rest of the shopping. Paper, made from natural and biodegradable fibers, may seem like a sustainable alternative to plastic. However, this does not take into account the various stages of processing the fibers to obtain a smooth, homogeneous and ready-to-use paper: the paper industry also has a dark side.
The fibers that make up the raw material for paper undergo numerous processing operations, from shredding to cutting the paper into standardized sheets. Industrial paper production processes therefore consume a lot of energy, but also precious resources. In fact, some of these operations, which are very water-intensive, result in the discharge of waste solutions that must then be purified. These operations include
- Pulping. In the case of recycled paper, the cardboard and paper fibers used as raw material are suspended in water in order to be reconditioned into paper pulp.  At this stage of production, they are also de-inked by adding solvents to the water. Finally, it should be noted that the inks themselves are often very polluting, and that certain waste such as staples, ribbons or plastic covers are then found in the water to be treated. In the case of wood pulp, the cellulose fibers are separated from each other by the action of very harmful chemicals mixed with water or propelled by steam: these may be caustic soda, sulfates, or bisulfites.
- Bleaching, the first source of pollution in the paper production process. Depending on the type of paper produced, the paper pulp is then bleached by adding other chemicals that loosen the last natural adhesives present in the fibers: these are essentially chlorine compounds. Again, large quantities of wastewater are discharged.
- Paper drying techniques. They result in the rejection in liquid or vapor form of the water contained in the paper pulp, which has been loaded with various harmful ingredients during the previous stages. In addition, this step represents a phenomenal consumption of energy. As a comparison, the manufacture of one ton of paper requires the equivalent of the average annual electricity consumption of a French household.
- Finally, other operations such as wood preparation, pulp cooking and other washing and emptying also contaminate the water used.
Wastewater from the paper industry is one of the most polluting and dangerous industrial effluents. They are characterized by the significant presence of non-soluble and indecantable pollutants, the presence of soluble pollutants that are refractory to organic degradation processes, and finally a frantic production rate. Bleaching alone, for example, represents 20 to 40 mᶟ of wastewater per ton of pulp.
In an attempt to limit the environmental impact of this sector, new bleaching techniques have been developed, under the labels ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) and TCF (Totally Chlorine Free). While the TCF label indicates that the paper has been treated without the use of chlorine or chlorine derivatives, the ECF label indicates only a slight improvement over conventional processes. The ideal is therefore to buy unbleached paper... which does not solve the problems linked to the other production stages.
Finally, it should be noted that paper bags, despite their apparent advantages, have a lower rate of reuse: consumers never return to the store with the kraft bag they used to carry their vegetables a few days earlier. Vulnerable to moisture, not as strong as plastic, and often made of other materials that are less easily recycled, paper is not environmentally friendly or practical enough to be a sustainable alternative to plastic bags.
The ecological bag: a bag that protects the environment
Aware of environmental issues and the need for sustainable development, the French company "Les Mouettes Vertes" has been creating and manufacturing customizable ecological bags for over 15 years. These woven bags, available in several colors, are used by many companies because they allow to create a lasting link with their commercial target, in particular during a company event.
Durable, these colored ecological bags are to be integrated into your communication strategy because they reinforce your brand image and spread your values.
These advertising objects will be the best assets of your company and will not fail to protect the planet.
Made of organic fibers, our organic cotton bags are GOTS certified.
Whether they are offered in customizable jute or customizable cotton, our ecological advertising bags are a perfect alternative to traditional kraft paper bags.
Our models of large colored bags can hold many objects and be used as a woman's shopping bag.
Do not hesitate to have your shopping bag embroidered for a unique look.
Respectful of the environment, our range of colored shopping bags can be personalized according to your desires.
Textiles: the different types of ecological bags
Conventional cotton growing
Strong, versatile, attractive and easily recyclable, the cotton tote bag appears to be a serious candidate to replace plastic bags. Cotton is the first natural textile fiber used in the world and represents a vast industrial and agricultural sector, mainly in the United States and Asia, particularly in India, China, Uzbekistan and Pakistan; there are also cotton farms in Turkey, Brazil and Australia. But are all these farms equal? Do they produce fibers of homogeneous quality, and especially what is the impact of their production methods on the environment and human health? We will see that the cotton bag, which has for him its natural quality and its high rate of reuse, is not always a sustainable solution.
Intensive cotton cultivation, especially in environments where the climate is not specifically adapted to the water needs of the plants, requires the implementation of a very important irrigation policy and a constant supply of seeds. Indeed, although cotton is a sustainable species, it is generally sown and planted every year, following the model of cereal crops. Whatever the country concerned, conventional cotton growing is therefore a demanding consumption of resources, especially since standardized seeds, which are less adaptable to a particular climate, require even more water, fertilizer and pesticides.
The cotton industry as a whole accounts for only 2-3% of the land cultivated, but to achieve the yields required to meet demand, conventional cotton farming uses up to 24% of all pesticides applied to farms worldwide. These pesticides, most often dispersed by air, have a direct impact on the quality of water and soil near the crops, and are carried by both agricultural irrigation systems and natural waterways. Thus, when they are discharged into the mouths of rivers, they threaten the fragile balance of wetlands and are all the more difficult to treat because the filters used to retain them also eliminate the micro-organisms and minerals naturally present in the water. In addition, the way pesticides are dispersed sometimes leads to a majority of them being released into the atmosphere. They can thus fall back through the rain after having travelled very long distances, which makes their harmfulness all the more threatening.
If the acute effects of pesticides on health, and in particular on cotton growers, are relatively well known (allergic or inflammatory reactions, cardio-respiratory diseases, etc.), on the other hand, the long-term consequences of exposure of the human body to pesticides are still unclear and difficult to study. A growing number of scientific studies are nevertheless attempting to describe and quantify these consequences, with the main conclusions being that pesticides play a major role in the appearance of cancers, particularly leukemia and lymphoma, birth defects, reproductive disorders, neurotoxic effects and endocrine disrupting effects. In the Punjab region, where most of India's cotton is grown, many farmers are suffering from illnesses that are caused by pesticides, and the press has gone so far as to refer to this highly cultivated part of India as the " cancer belt ".
Finally, it should be noted that the need to wash the pesticide-soaked fibers leads to the discharge of wastewater and contributes to doubling the water consumption normally required for cotton production. We also find, in these residues, all the products used to bleach or dye the textile, with as a consequence the sometimes irremediable devastation of the ecosystems near the factories, and the progressive impoverishment of the cultivable lands. The only real advantage of the non-organic cotton tote bag would therefore be linked to its reusability, in its original form or through the recycling of fibers.
The rise of organic cotton farms
Nevertheless, as the ecological and sanitary impact of conventional cotton is becoming better known, manufacturers and growers are increasingly turning to organic fibers, responding not only to the challenges of preserving the raw material through the fertility of cultivated areas, but also to a growing demand for traceability of the chain expressed by end consumers.
Organic cotton, more resistant and more respectful of the environment as well as of the health of the farmers and consumers, will thus retain our favor compared to plastic, paper, or even non-organic cotton. The youth of this sector and the attention paid to the quality of the finished products could, it is true, make the purchase of a colored organic cotton bag a more important investment. Nevertheless, this expense is very quickly paid back and is also justified by the possibilities that are developing in terms of style, color and design. Especially in this period where the tote bag is the latest fashion!
To better evaluate the reliability of the different certifications of organic cotton, you can also refer to our file on the labels used by the textile industry, in order to ensure the reality of the social and environmental commitment of your suppliers.
Other organic textile alternatives
The specificity of the climate under which cotton grows optimally, the need to diversify the types of textile used to meet customer demands, and the rise of the "made in France" concept are also pushing companies to turn to other textile fibers, whose organic channels are still in the development phase but whose future prospects are promising.
Flax, whose cultivation requires great technical mastery and is carried out over fairly long rotations (every 6 to 7 years), is gradually gaining its credentials in the modern textile industry. It has the advantage of preparing the soil very well for other crops, of requiring only small quantities of water and of having an absolutely positive carbon balance. Mainly grown in France, Belgium and the Netherlands, it also allows the creation of local textile production chains - at least in theory, given the preponderance of China in the weaving and dyeing of fibers: it is in fact in China that most of the combers, spinners, weavers and knitters of flax have been relocated. 70% of the exports to China come from France: there is still progress to be made in this respect! Moreover, linen has thermoregulatory, absorbent and anti-allergic properties known since Antiquity, and is as resistant and durable as cotton, which makes it a material of choice for making clothes or shopping bags.
Nevertheless, flax growers agree that this crop is riskier and more difficult to grow than cotton, insofar as the length of the rotation cycles, the technicality of the operations of exposing the fiber (scutching) and finally the complexity of the means of controlling certain pests lead to many uncertainties regarding the yield of the farms. This is why flax is on average more expensive than other organic textile fibers, and is only a marginal solution when it comes to achieving production volumes equivalent to other types of fiber. Finally, it should be noted that linen fabrics, which are easily crumpled, often undergo chemical finishing treatments, whose ecological impact is not zero!
Considered as an ecological fiber, bamboo has been booming for the last fifteen years. Contrary to what one might think, bamboo is very rarely sold in its natural fiber form. Indeed, the natural fiber being very rough in its state, 99% of bamboo textiles are now made from viscose.
Many companies are capitalizing on the appeal of bamboo to consumers and highlighting the innovative and environmentally friendly nature of the textiles they produce.
Bamboo is grown in an environmentally friendly way. Bamboo grows very quickly, without the need for water, fertilizers or pesticides, and is a very important development factor for the producing countries, especially in Nigeria and Ethiopia.
The roots of bamboo reduce soil erosion, preserve the soil and allow its regeneration.
A bamboo forest is able to absorb 35% more CO2 than a forest of deciduous trees.
The use of bamboo is very popular in the textile industry.
Bamboo is often used in sportswear, pajamas, underwear or even in our menstrual panties. Bamboo fabric has multiple properties such as lightness, breathability, softness and natural antibacterial properties.
Moreover, the maintenance of products made of bamboo is very easy.
The only drawback: the transformation of the bamboo plant into fibers relies on a heavy and polluting process including the use of chemicals.
Marketed mainly by the Austrian company Lenzing under the name of Tencel, lyocell is a textile made from wood pulp, fully biodegradable and recyclable. The raw materials used can be bamboo, eucalyptus or beech, but lyocell itself is not a natural fiber: indeed, the wood pulp is transformed into textile fiber thanks to a recyclable and non-toxic organic solvent, the NNMO (N-methylmorpholine monohydrate).
Developed in the 1970s, lyocell is nowadays mainly used as a replacement for viscose, whose softness and fluidity it imitates without having the disadvantages in terms of environmental impact. Indeed, in the case of viscose, the natural cellulose is treated with very polluting products, while for the manufacture of lyocell the solvent used is not harmful, and is in any case recovered in an almost integral way to be then reused. Moreover, it would be possible to make it a more local process, as the varieties of wood used allow it to be adapted to Europe as well as to Africa or Asia.
In terms of resource management, the forests from which the wood pulp for lyocell production is sourced are generally FSC (Forest Steward Council) or PEFC (Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification) certified. Nevertheless, some crops such as bamboo are still managed in an unsustainable way, which must be taken into account. Moreover, these labels include, like the organic labels, different levels of requirements: it is therefore necessary to check the proportion of materials actually coming from sustainably managed forests, or from recycling channels.
It should also be noted that the process of transforming the pulp into fiber requires a lot of energy, and that the biodegradable quality of lyocell also has an impact on the durability of clothes or bags made of this material: the fiber is indeed sensitive to water, tends to wrinkle and to fibrillate when wet, and in the current state of production processes, the treatment of these slight defects would require the addition of more harmful finishing products.
Hemp and jute are back in the spotlight
Considered less than noble because of their history of making agricultural bags, hemp and jute were sidelined by the apparel and accessory industry for many years. However, their strength and predisposition for organic cultivation has brought them back into vogue, and they are now used in the manufacture of not only bags and upholstery, but also accessories and clothing. Grown in a sustainable crop rotation, both jute and hemp contribute to the regeneration of the soil and the health of the species grown before or after them.
Hemp is an annual plant, very resistant to water (including during monsoons), and has few pests or diseases. If its fibers are transformed into textile after several operations of retting (natural separation of the fibers under the effect of a fungus), of spinning and then of weaving, the other parts of the plant are also exploitable, which makes it an extremely profitable crop: the seeds, once harvested, are used to produce oil, while the chèvenotte (the part of the fibers which remains welded after retting) constitutes an excellent insulating material. Moreover, the rotation period of hemp is shorter than that of flax (3 years against 6 or 7), and both plants have the same antibacterial properties. Finally, it should be noted that the French climate is perfectly suited to it, which suggests the possibility of a totally "made in France" offer.
Jute is the second most produced natural fiber in the world, after cotton. Its cultivation is very labor intensive and requires little fertilizer and pesticides, making it an ideal species for organic farms. The processing steps are the same as for hemp, with harvesting, retting, and then processing of the fibers to make textiles. However, jute only grows in tropical or very humid climates, so to date India, Bangladesh and Nepal are the main producers, often growing it in rotation with rice. Totally biodegradable and recyclable, jute fiber is appreciable for its length, its resistance and its shiny effect, as well as its antistatic and insulating properties. Finally, it is a very breathable fiber, and therefore pleasant to wear. As for the rest of the plant, it can be used as an insulator, as fuel or even reduced to extracts used in the composition of certain cosmetics. Is this the perfect solution? Not necessarily, because because of the softness of its fibers, jute is often combined with a plastic coating to create bags with a minimum of hold. Beware of the composition of the bags made with this material.
Conclusion: the ecological bag, a practical and sustainable bag!
At Les Mouettes Vertes, the choice to turn to a very high quality organic cotton, durable and easily recyclable, was motivated by our desire to offer an ecological and natural alternative to plastic, while having fun with shapes and colors, to offer you bags and accessories that combine ethics and style.
If textiles, whether cotton, hemp, linen or lyocell, seem to be the best candidate to replace plastic and paper, it should be noted that not all textiles are equal and that the conventional cultivation of fiber plants has a very heavy environmental impact. Choosing textiles therefore also means turning to organic fibers and to companies whose social commitment policy allows a fairer distribution of the value created.
Les Mouettes Vertes turned to India to find organic cotton fibers cultivated and transformed in the respect of all the actors of this sector. India has the advantage of having a perfectly structured, transparent and traceable cotton sector. Moreover, we were keen to preserve employment where it is most precarious: this is why our workshop near Mumbai pays the greatest attention to the well-being of its employees, and pays them in a dignified way, so as to grow the local economy. Finally, their mastery and ancestral know-how allow us to offer products with impeccable finishes and colors!
Are you convinced? If so, don't hesitate to take a look at our personalized and colorful bags and tote bags to put your good resolutions into practice!