The Cloth Shopping Bag: Intentions are great, but was the Execution Really ‘Green’?

Occasionally, I will write a blog post that has little to nothing to do with landscape architecture, planning or urbanism.  The following is one of those posts.

We have all seen it in the past few years, the world is going green.  But that begs the question, is the world REALLY going green, or is it just the latest marketing strategy?  It is difficult to go into any retail establishment today where you cannot find some sort of ‘green’ alternative or additional gimmick to catch you before you leave.

 

Rule of thumb: If the bag can not stand upright, it is not durable.

The primary example of this is the cloth shopping bag sold at grocery stores and big box stores all over the country.  Is the cloth shopping bag really a green alternative, or is it simply a temporary marketing gimmick?  Reusable shopping bags sound like a good thing and admittedly I have fallen for the trap of purchasing the cloth shopping bag.  The problem is that after you use the shopping bag enough that it needs washed, or has received its fair share of wear and tear, there is a good chance that the bag will rip and render itself unusable.  Then what do you do with this cloth piece of garbage?  If you are so inclined, you can sew it back together and fix it.  But, if you are not inclined (like myself) to sew the bag back together, it can either be salvaged as a rag, given to someone else who can utilize the material or simply dispose of it.  In the consumptive society of the United States, odds are that it is disposed of.

So really, how ‘green’ is the cloth shopping bag?  I would argue that it is not very green at all, at least the cloth bags that are thin in material, flimsy and not durable.  For example, I have a cloth bag that has taken a beating since I first received it at an annual Conference (Congress for the New Urbanism) in Philadelphia.  This bag is not a super expensive or nice bag, but it is built of a moderately durable quality so that it is easily used for multiple years.  On the other side, I have some other red cloth bags that were purchased at a big box.  I have probably used these around twenty times and they are noticeably ripped at the corners, so much that items fall out easily.  I am not advocating to use the plastic bags or ask for them at the stores, but this is more of a cautionary message for the reusable purchases.  I do find the plastic bags useful after their initial use (small garbage can liners, lunches, etc.).  I am encouraged by a few companies have started to charge for the plastic bags, which I think is fantastic! Guilt and money can go a long way in decreasing the consumption of plastic bags. 

  • Guilt: The customer suddenly has to request their plastic bags for their purchase.
  • Money: When consumers have to pay additional money for their bags, it is predictable that most will choose to not have a bag, or bring a bag previously (plastic or durable).  Has anyone noticed that cashiers will give you a gag for everything? The cashier the other day tried to give me a plastic bag for a package of gum.

The shopping bag was obviously my inspiration for this blog post, but it is certainly not the only green wash that has occurred recently.  ‘Green‘ should not, and is not, something that has to be fabricated.  Durability and reuse should take precedence over anything someone tries to sell you that is ‘green‘.

Remember when we demanded things that were actually going to last?

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