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What material makes the best reusable bags?

We get asked what the best reusable bags are a lot! Bulletin Bag [.com] features custom bags made from a wide assortment of materials and fabrics. Each one material carries its own advantages and disadvantages, so the best reusable bags really ARE in the eye of the beholder, er, project manager!

While it’s true that manufacturing and shipping reusable bags has an impact on the environment, any reusable bag is more environmentally friendly than the alternative:  single use paper or plastic bags. High quality bags are often better for the environment in more ways than one.

So, how do you pick the best reusable bag for your needs? Read about your material options in this guide to help with your decision. You may also want to look at how to wash reusable bags as well. Sometimes, the best reusable grocery bags are those that you don’t have to spend extra time cleaning!

cottonCOTTON bags come in many variations. Bulletin Bag [.com] offers traditional cotton, organic cotton and recycled cotton reusable bags. Organic cotton is grown without pesticides and is typically certified using global standards. Recycled cotton consists of reclaimed organic and traditional cotton scrap (that would typically end up in a landfill), which is reclaimed or spun into new yarn. Traditional Cotton production involves a raw, natural fiber, but requires more chemicals than any other crop.  Note that cotton comes in different weights that are specified in ounces. Cotton canvas reusable bags are typically 10 to 12 ounces, but we do offer less expensive bags that are between 5 and 8 ounces. Take care to note the weight when comparing like bags. Cotton is often regarded as the material which yields the best reusable grocery bags because of its many advantages:

Advantages
• Biodegradable/Natural plant fiber
• Renewable resource
• Strong and durable
• Soft, smooth and pleasant to the touch
• Widely available in the USA and abroad
• Can be machine washed, with like colors, in cold water.  We recommend air drying to reduce shrinkage and to preserve the longevity of any printing.
• Cotton provides the ideal ‘canvas’ for logo printing on reusable bags.  In addition to screen printing and full color heat transfer printing, some custom cotton bags can also be printed in full bleed

Disadvantages
• Not moisture resistant unless chemically treated
• High water consumption crop
• Traditional (non-organic) cotton accounts for 16% of the world’s pesticides
• Heavy, bulky and expensive to ship
• As with anything made from 100% cotton, bags can shrink and wrinkle with machine washing (to limit this, wash in cold water and air dry).

Shop for cotton reusable bags

jute_bamboo_hemp

HEMP grows well without pesticides or fertilizers and is drought tolerant. Each acre yields three to six tons of dry fiber. Hemp fibers are one of Earth’s longest, strongest and most durable fibers and are several times stronger than cotton.

Advantages
• Extremely strong, durable, and rot resistant
• Can grow in poor soils with little water
• Refined hemp is soft, smooth and pleasant to touch
• Most hemp reusable bags can be machine washed and dried
• Hemp gets stronger over time and ‘breaks in’ nicely when used frequently
• Hemp can be blended with other materials to make highly desirable, high end fabrics with texture similar to linen (hemp is typically blended with cotton or recycled PET)

Disadvantages
• Currently cannot be produced in US (hemp products in the western world are imported)
• Can be expensive
• Can be grainy, though most is refined.  Refined hemp uses a fair amount of water

Shop for hemp reusable bags

JUTE is a natural plant fiber, often referred to as hessian or burlap.

Advantages
• Natural renewable resource
• Jute is biodegradable and compostable
• Cultivated
• Durable
• Grows in high rainfall areas and require little to no pesticides or irrigation
• Can be blended with other fabrics (like nonwoven polypropylene)

Disadvantages
• Not very resistant to moisture unless chemically treated or laminated
• Grainy texture
• Printing limited to thick lines and bold objects (no fine details)

Shop for jute reusable bags

nw_ppPOLYPROPYLENE is a form of plastic—a flexible resin polymer. Nonwoven polypropylene bags are regarded as the best reusable grocery bags by some, due to their low cost and relative durability. The primary market measurement for nonwoven polypropylene bags is GSM (grams per square meter). GSM measures the weight and density of the material. The higher the GSM, the stronger the material. The fabric density is directly correlated to the quality and durability of the bag. GSM is indicated on almost all of our nonwoven polypropylene reusable bags. If it is not specified, please contact us for more information. Polypropylene can also be woven, though it’s not as common a material. We offer several woven polypropylene bags, though most are produced overseas at large quantities only.

Advantages
• Recyclable #5
• Very strong
• Can be made from recycled materials
• Chemical resistant
• May be woven, making it less porous and easier to wipe clean
• Wide variety of material color options
• Flexible printing options.  Can be screenprinted (spot colors), printed in full color (heat transfer), printed in full color/full bleed or even laminated with a gloss or matte finish

Disadvantages
• Type of plastic
• Not biodegradable or compostable
• Product of the petrochemical industry
• Non-renewable resource
• Not readily available in the USA
• Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash or spray clean only)
• Texture of the bag and thickness of inks used require fairly thick lines and larger font sizes

Shop for nonwoven polypropylene reusable bags

Shop for woven polypropylene reusable bags

poly_nylonNYLON is a type of synthetic polymer originally made to replace silk in fabrics.

Advantages
• Nylon is strong and durable
• Lightweight material
• Compacts easily – can be folded, stuffed in a pouch, and carried in a pocket, pocketbook, backpack or car cup holder
• Easily dyed which creates interesting material color options
• Water resistant
• Can be screenprinted (spot colors) or printed using a full color heat transfer

Disadvantages
• A petroleum-based product
• Slow to break down
• Heavy use can cause screenprinting inks to break down

Shop for nylon reusable bags

POLYESTER is a polymer typically made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), the same material found in drink bottles. Polyester can be recycled through reheating, thereby converting back into polymer fibers for further reuse.

Advantages
• Versatile material
• Polyester is resistant to water and mold-mildew
• Resistant to crinkling
• Compacts easily – can be folded, stuffed in a pouch, and carried in a pocket, pocketbook, backpack or car cup holder

Disadvantages
• A form of plastic
• Slow to break down
• Heavy use can cause screenprinting inks to break down

Shop for polyester reusable bags

pet_optionsRECYCLED PET is a durable, eco-friendly fabric made from post consumer recycled plastic bottles and containers. Using recycled PET reduces waste and conserves oil and non-renewable resources.  Reusable bags made from recycled PET create a market for post-consumer recycled materials. Some of our best-selling reusable bags are the ones that are made from recycled materials!

Advantages
• Strong and durable
• Requires 2/3 less energy to manufacture products made out of PET
• Can be blended with other fabric, like hemp or polyester, to make a nice material for reusable bags
• Recycled PET reusable bags can be screenprinted in spot colors.  Some blends can be printed with a full color heat transfer.  Recycled PET can also be laminated and printed will beautiful full color, “all over” graphics

Disadvantages
• A form of plastic
• The process of transporting, sorting and recycling post consumer waste expends energy and can create pollution (Remember: reduce, reuse, recycle — in that order)
• Not recommended for machine washing (hand wash only)

Shop for PET reusable bags

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