Reusable Bag – Different types of bags and materials

Shopping bag

The free or almost free reusable plastic bags given by stores, is handy when shopping because it holds different purchases and at other times it is used to protect objects while transporting them elsewhere. A reusable bag can sometimes be a tote bag or carry-all that you put everything in when you are shopping in a store. Depending on the material it could weigh about a fiftieth of the weight that it can carry and up to a volume of 5-10 liters. The bag makes your life easier but often, once it is used, you don’t want to be bothered with it because they are often cumbersome and not pretty. Sometimes it is easy to get rid of but often you end up keeping it.

Although these plastic bags hold the record for lightness, storage and their ability to be carried once they are filled, currently we can buy more attractive alternatives. Ones that is reusable, practical, strong and ergonomic. For example: tote bags or carry-alls, shopping carts with wheels, backpacks or folding boxes.

Tote bags/ carry-all bag

The tote bag is being used more and more for shopping and for other occasions when a bag is needed. It can also be used to carry office or stationary supplies and gifts. If the bag is small it can also be used to hold different sample products. The design on the reusable bag can be used for advertising, or to improve public relations. Certain specialty stores selling perfume and cosmetics use the outside of their bags as a form of publicity to attract potential customers.

In most cases, the stores give out bags that have their logo or brand name printed on them. In short, these tote bags can be used as often as you want, helping to reduce the mass of waste produced by throw away bags. Tote bags come in different shapes and styles. To satisfy their clients, the designers strive to personalize the appearance and to give a touch of originality to the bags. The interior of the sac is sometimes plasticized for durability and to simplify maintenance.

Garbage/trash/rubbish bags

Some companies have developed a multipurpose bag made of plasticized woven materiel, capable of carrying up to 120 liters or a weight of 40 kilos. They are reusable and resistant to accidental damage caused by pointed objects like branches and thorns. Also, the presence of a handle on the side makes them easy to empty. This type of reusable bag, in addition to being hand washable, is also pliable, making it easy to fold and store away, or left open and used as a waste container.

An example of this type is the 50 liters Handy Bag, a reusable bag specially made, for example, for the construction industry to collect and transport heavy waste. The gusset at the base of the bag increases its capacity and makes filling it easier. The top opening closes with a zipper to avoid generating dust during its use.


Paper (Kraft, coated and embossed)

Bags made from Kraft paper are available on the market with different motifs and colors. Kraft paper is only a 100% reusable if use to carry dry objects. In this case you have a choice between an attractive reusable bag made of natural unbleached Kraft paper or one made of brown Kraft paper of 140 g/m², with handles made of the same material but twisted for added strength.

A cardboard insert reinforces the bottom of the bag so you don’t need to worry about objects piercing the bottom and sliding out. Some manufactures are producing bags made of smooth brown recycled Kraft paper of 100g/ m². Several varieties of the Kraft paper bag are available: white or brown smooth paper, a coated finish style, a cream colored version or one with an embossed/waffled texture.

Plastic (PVC, polypropylene)

The movement towards using reusable bags has finally born fruit and plastic bag production has experience a considerable decline in the last five years. Also, plastic bags have not received the EN 13427 environmental certification. In 2007 according to the BNQ, Bureau de Normalization du Quebec, more than 2 billion plastic bags had been circulating in the market, i.e. 5 bags per person per year. The plastic bag is the most popular bag in use but this number must be reduced by half this year. This requires an education of the population in the appropriate reuse of plastic bags.

Some retail stores offer bags made of film coated polypropylene and they are one of the very best bags for reuse. They are made from woven polypropylene into the shape of a bag. The weaving gives the bag a rigid and resistant structure. To protect the design a transparent coating of polypropylene, similar to varnish, in either a glossy or mat finish, is also put on the surface of the bag. The bag is well designed and is both recyclable and reusable.

Material (polyester, PET, nylon or cotton)

Polyester or PET

You can find on the market today different types of reusable plastic bags. The low density polypropylene bag is the most popular with the majority being reusable and recyclable, and satisfying the French environmental regulation, NF. It takes polypropylene between 200-400 years to decompose. If the bags are incinerated in special waste-energy facilities, electricity or heat can be created.

Polyester, another material, is made from polypropylene terephthalate, or PET. Compared to natural fiber PET has the advantage of not wrinkling easily. It is also waterproof and drys quickly. It is resistant to mold and its maintenance is easy and does not require washing in hot water. It retains its original shape after washing and the fabric is resistant to dirt. If you have not yet made your choice of reusable bag, chose one made of PET. Light weight and strong, it’s an ideal fabric for multiple use bags.

In the same way, a shopping bag is made from either woven polypropylene or from recycled PET. The bags are very strong and the reinforcement of the seams and gusset makes them even stronger. They too are coated with a glossy or mat film. Very nice attractive non-woven polypropylene bags that have a good look and feel to them are also available.

Ox-biodegradable (OXO) plastic is another variety of polyethylene manufactured for reusable bags. It is a plastic which has metal salts added to it to rapidly increase the degradation process. The resulting micro fragments of plastic and metal will remain in the environment but will not be a visual contaminant.


Nylon is a silky thermoplastic material first used commercially in 1938 for the manufacturing of bristled toothbrushes and later for stockings, nylons, for women in 1940. Nylon is often called polyamide (PA).

Nylon, widely used in the clothing industry has also found a use in the production of a reusable bag. It is a strong silky elastic fabric accepting virtually any color dyes. It is resistant to abrasion and to spills, making it’s upkeep easy. After washing it dries quickly.


The softness of cotton fibers gives a supple and light aspect to a reusable bag. It is the most often used textile for bags since its physical characteristics are compatible with other materials. It is very durable and its strength can be improved by combining it with other fibers.

Cotton bags are 100% cotton weighing 125g/ m². They are washable, esthetically pleasing, durable and reusable. Some have straps for handles and can measure 62 cm long. They do not have a separate reinforcement piece at the bottom but they can still be a suitable carry-all. In addition they can be decorated with attractive silk screen designs.

Burlap and green/sustainable/Eco-friendly packaging


Burlap bags, made from jute, are custom made by hand before being silk screened. You can choose your own size, colors and designs. Thus as a retailer you can have your burlap bags personalized as you like, in any color and with designs on both sides.

Although these bags cost a bit more than those made with other materials, they combine elegance and originality. Jute combines well with cotton, producing a pleasing product. For example, you could have the body of the bag in the natural color of cotton and the design could be made with colored jute. Depending on skill of the designer, the reusable bag can be quite elegant.

Green/Sustainable/Eco-friendly packaging

The material in eco-friendly packaging is made of only natural, biodegradable and reusable material. Nothing in its composition is obvious in the end product. The material is made of 99% sugar cane, or bagasse, with 1% oil added for waterproofing. The packaging is also safe to use with food products.

The bag can hold cold or boiling water, can be used in microwaves and refrigerators and is reusable, recyclable, compostable and bio-degradable. Use of this type of reusable bag has grown considerable.

Reusable bag – Definition and history


The expression reusable bag is composed of two words: reusable and bag.

The first word, reusable, implies that an object is used several times before disposing of it. This is the case for example, of plastic bags given out at the check-out counter in a supermarket. The European directive 94/62/CE considers the reuse of the bag a good environmental practice and the regulation EN 13427 outlines the following conditions of reuse. The packaging or reusable bag must be made of recyclable materials or be biodegradable or compostable or be a source of recoverable energy. The regulation also recommends that the material be both biodegradable and compostable.

The second word, bag, is a portable container made of natural or synthetic material having an opening at the top and is designed to transport or protect various objects. A bag has two handles and is more or less fairly large. The exterior can be a simple uniform color or decorated with attractive colors and designs. Bags are used everywhere: for shopping, in the home, at the market, at trade shows, conferences and conventions. It is used for shopping, packaging gifts, or holding garbage and afterwards it often ends up filling the trash cans! The bag has become indispensable in our daily life but it will easily blight our environment if it is thrown away thoughtlessly.


In the past bags were made of natural material and women were proud to use an attractive reusable bag to do their shopping. To create a pleasing bag, the designers undoubtedly took their time in putting on the finishing touches. A beautiful bag held under the arm or firmly by its straps or handles was an important accessory for a women who valued style in her life, thus the bag became a part of a woman’s wardrobe, regardless of the outing. Whether the bag had an impact on the environment or not, was not an important consideration since the bag would have lasted for a long time.

When society changed and women were not shopping on a daily basis, they were forced to carry heavier bags. The development of light plastic bags has made it easier to carry several bags at a time, allowing for the separation of products. Wet or strong smelling items such as fish or meat can be separated from the other objects. Unfortunately the homes quickly become full of plastic bags!

Plastic bags are given out free in the supermarkets, not only to insure the loyalty of their clientele but also to make it easier to buy more things. In this case, the average time of use of a bag would be about 30 minutes and then the bags join the garbage heap. Currently, in some countries like France and Ireland, the managers or owners of some large stores are aware of the environmental problems of disposing of bags and packaging, and so the bags are no longer free. Bio-degradable bags are sold for a small price at the check-out and the money is used for collecting and treating waste.

In general a person living in a country like the USA, Canada, France, Belgium or in Australia uses, on average around 300-350 plastic bags per year and 80% of them are thrown in the garbage. It has been reported that this has created in the northern Pacific Ocean, a continental size garbage pit of non-biodegradable material, six times the surface area of France. What can we do about these bags that are flooding and degrading Nature? Can they be reused instead? If not, would it possible to recycle them or reuse the material for other purposes? And in the future, would it possible to design and make bags and packaging materials that respect the three characteristics demanded by the European Union’s regulation EN 13427, for the preservation of the environment. Reusable bags are an excellent solution for reducing the number of plastic bags in circulation and for reducing the problem of their disposal.

Reusable bags- Technical Characteristics


Reusable bags that conform to the European regulations are available in several sizes. The capacity of the reusable bag is directly related to its design and shape. In order to increase the size of the bag and to make the exterior attractive, the bags have gussets and an interior cardboard strip at the bottom.

The shape is then constructed using the formula: length x width (bottom) x height. Thus you will find for example sizes such as 18x8x24cm, or 27x12x36cm or 32x 12x41cm, and the largest 46x16x49cm. The edge of the gussets is reinforced and the bags are generally straight sided, without pockets.


Printed designs on the bag usually measure 20x15cm, in one color and are printed on either one side or on both the front and back. Sometimes the manufacturers offer bags made of one solid color without a printed design, but the fashion today is to carry a bag that goes with your outfit or for the occasion. For example, a reusable bag printed with flowers will go well on your hikes and picnics.

A bag with a discrete design is better suited for the outfits you wear when you are doing your shopping. If teenagers would like to give a gift to their teacher or if children would like to surprise their teacher at the end of the year, a gift placed in a beautiful paper bag with a festive design has a more personal touch. And a beautiful reusable bag obtained at a conference, seminar or trade show, is a wonderful souvenir.

In general, the thickness of non-woven regulation polypropylene used in the making of reusable bags is between 85-130 g/m², but some manufactures are concerned about the strength and have increased the thickness of their bags to between 120-200 g/m². Some bags are made of two materials: non-woven polypropylene that has a film of bi-axially orientated polyethylene. The stripe on the sides of the gusset is cut on the bias and the thickness of the material is between 120-200g/m². A reusable bag with non-woven polypropylene handles, and with designs available in 8 colors, can be quite chic. To give a superior quality to the design on the exterior of the bag, the manufacturer sandwiches the design between two materials. This protects the bag and its design from bumps and abrasions, and assures its reuse and longevity.


The handle is the strongest part of a reusable bag and its junction with the body of the bag must be secure and strong. The handles can be made of the same material as the body of the bag. The handles of paper bags, for example, are made of twisted paper, in the same material as the bag. For esthetic reasons and for added strength, sometimes designers prefer handles made of cord or fabric or cotton ribbon.

Nylon is also used as handles in the form of a ribbon or a tube. Rubber tube handles are more comfortable to use when carrying heavy loads. Grips can be short (handles) or long (straps) to use on the shoulder or they can be a continuation of the body of the bag. The bags can also have a zippered closure. An added luxury is a coating on the exterior and interior of the bag to make it more resistance to water or humidity.

Reusable bag- Regulations and certifications and effects on the environment

Regulations and certifications

The label reusable signifies that the bag can be reused without treating it, or reused by simply washing it, for example. It all depends on how the bag was used. You could reuse a bag that held cosmetics several times before throwing it away, if the cosmetics did not damage or stain the bag. NF, the famous French environmental designation printed on bags is a label used by manufacturers and distributors since 1947 and is known internationally as a standard of quality. In a market more and more competitive this label of quality on your bags will add to their value and will moreover be conforming to a respect for the environment. More than 61% of the population is now demanding products carrying the label NF (Ipsos 2009). Use of the NF label by your marketing department will be giving the message to consumers that your company is concerned about limiting the use of non-recyclable bags, that you support the movement for the preservation of the environment and that you produce only high quality reusable bags.

In order to receive the label NF, the manufacturer must follow four steps. First you must ask the appropriate French office for the certification. Secondly, they will then investigate and treat your demand for certification. Thirdly, studies and verifications of the manufacturing of the product will be made and fourthly, an evaluation of the results will be determined. The reusable sac must conform to the following criteria: the material must not contain hazardous materials such as CMR or heavy metals, it must be made from renewable sources, the inks used for printing the design on the bag must not contain glycol ether, the carbon emissions resulting from printing must be limited, the bag itself must be recyclable and it must not contain any products containing GMOs.

There are certain technical characteristics required of the reusable bag to make it resistance to tears and to breaks. The thickness of the bag must be practical and attractive. Paper and plastic bags must satisfy certain criteria concerning their use with food and the environment. The 1986 regulations concerned with this are NF H 34-010 regarding plastic wrap. In addition, L’ISO 14021 type II is a voluntary environmental labeling and regulation JIS Z 1711 (1986) controls the quality of the printed design.

Effects on the environment

The adoption of reusable bags is a strong contribution to the preservation of the environment and a way to effectively participate in sustainable development without compromising the comforts in your life. However, it assumes an on-going commitment and desire at all times. As responsible citizen our choices and behavior help preserve our health and those of our children and future generations. Plastic and non-bio-degradable bags should no longer be thrown into the environment because they will eventually end up in the sea.

How many turtles have perished after having swallowed a plastic bag thinking that it was a jellyfish? Each year the number of plastic bags thrown away has increased from 500 billion to 1000 billion, and the majority has ended up in the environment. The use of reusable bags appears to be the only good long term solution to the problem. An internet web site has stated that it takes 1 second to make a single-use plastic bag, 20 minutes to use it and 4 centuries for it to decompose! These statistics suffice to make us all concerned about the importance of using reusable bags.

Reusable bags – Variety, price and guarantee


Concerning a reusable bag, you are able to find many varieties: shopping bags, tote bags, car bag, carry-all bags and cooler bags. Car bags come in sizes holding 35-45 liters and tote bags/carry-all bags come in many sizes and styles. You find them made to hold bread or liquids etc. And do not forget cooler bags, useful in all seasons and especially in the summer.

The shopping or tote bag/carry-all bag, like the other reusable bags, can be of course personalized and are available in many colors. Among all the reusable bags available there is surely one that appeals to you. Since they are very practical and attractive you will feel proud to have one on your arm or in your hand!


You can easily find manufacturers of reusable bags on the internet. A visit to the web site of Vicbag ( is recommended. This specialized supplier guarantees quality reusable bags at very good prices. The best buy of course will be those bags which are both reusable and made with recycled material.

The price of an attractive reusable bag varies according to its use, size, handles and printed design. And of course the price is lower according to the number of bags ordered. Some manufactures sell in lots of 25 bags. Obviously, the more features a bag has and the better the quality, the higher the price.


The materials used to make the bags are tested and tried in a laboratory before being launched on the market and must pass certification regulations approved by competent authorities. The stamp put on the material is then a guarantee to all the manufactures of bags on all the levels of production.

Nevertheless, retailers are able to offer inexpensive bags, imitating those of well-known brands, but don’t be tricked by their advertising. These bags are often made in countries where there is no concern for the origin of the material and you will quickly notice the quality after the first wash, when the bag has shrunk. NF Environment or a comparable label is the mark of quality and the best guarantee to look for when buying a reusable bag.

Reusable bags – Advantages and disadvantages


Using reusable bags reduces the necessity of producing more bags, reusable or not, and this in turn reduces the consumption of energy and the resulting pollution. The number of bags thrown in the garbage will be reduced, facilitating the work for the trash collectors, the incinerators and the public in general. For this reason the bags are called eco-friendly.

So, designers are stepping in to make the best reusable bag at the best price, and in the least polluting manner. Reusable bags, depicting the logo of a company or its brand name, are used to promote the company and expand their advertising. Well-made reusable bags are by far more attractive than simple plastic ones.


Precautions to take

As often as possible you should look for bags that are marked « ecological », « eco » or « green ». This is usually printed somewhere on the bag. In France the most often used designation is the NF Environment label. In your country, take the time to look for an authorized environmental stamp on the reusable bag before buying it. You don’t want to be bothered with bags that you can only use once.

Reusable bags require a certain amount of care before being used with food products. First, the bags must be in good condition and not have holes or tears. The bags used for food products should be kept separate from the bags used to carry non-food products. From the very beginning you should separate the bags according to their use.

Reusable bags are not without health risks as we once thought. Poorly cleaned they become the source of dangerous bacteria growth. On a daily basis we use thick plastic bags for everything. For example we use them for our purchases at the meat store and because they are reusable, we use them again to carry fish and another time to carry vegetables. We use them for everything whenever we need to, without realizing how quickly they can become contaminated.

You should wash your fabric bags after each use when carrying fruits and vegetables, meat and fish, or chicken. The juice from these products can run in the bag and contaminate it. Since some reusable grocery store bags cannot be washed in a washing machine, they should be washed frequently by hand in warm soapy water and left to dry before reuse.

To disinfect a reusable bag, use the following recipe. In a spray bottle, mix one teaspoon of bleach with 3 cups of water. Spray the bag and rinse it with lots of water and then dry it with a clean towel or let it air dry. Never use the same reusable bag to carry both food and non-food products. If necessary, mark each bag appropriately or use different colors to help distinguished their use. To avoid mistakes use the following four step principal of food preparation: wash, separate, cook and refrigerate.

Bags used to keep meat and fish fresh or frozen should be different ones. In your refrigerator separate the fruits and vegetables from prepared foods in the same way. Once you have finished arranging them, be sure to clean the places where you had previously put them.

Fashion and Price

It is possible to use reusable bags for two or three seasons. Reusable bags follow the changes in fashion and like clothing the styles change and return, so you can keep the bag for a later time. In any situation a reusable bag is always more attractive looking than a non-reusable or plastic bag. The only problem for women is to match the bag with their outfits, but at the same time, it is more important to adapt to the spirit of our time and collaborate in saving the environment, a very worthwhile cause. Bags in natural material are logically more expensive than those made of artificial materials.

Concerning products marked environmentally friendly or eco-friendly, we always ask if the rule of the 3 Rs has been followed, i.e. is the product reusable, reducible (decomposable) and recyclable? When reusable bags reach the end of their life, many of them are not recyclable. In the beginning no regulation for the making of reusable bags had existed, leaving the manufactures free to use whatever material they wanted. Their goal had been to make a strong bag that could be reused. Neither the handles nor certain other parts, like the thread or additional binding were made of recyclable materials. It’s the same for certain kinds of closures. With bags like this it is necessary to remove these parts before recycling. If not, the bags will be incinerated like other waste, although this is at least better than leaving them in the environment or in a garbage heap, where they will take two centuries to decompose.

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