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Customers care about environmental packaging. Researchers and marketers are revealing polls that prove sustainable products and packaging are priorities for today’s consumers. Brands are often happy to accommodate this desire because eco-friendly packaging aligns with their own goals. However, knowing how to pivot to sustainable packaging choices isn’t always obvious for brands. Concerns about costs, durability, and design can all make brands apprehensive to make upgrades in the way packaging’s impact on the environment is handled. However, diving in is often easier than expected when brands work with respected, experienced packaging vendors capable of helping them to select the best eco-friendly packaging options.

One of the first topics brought up in discussions on designing sustainable packaging is how to go about transitioning away from “throwaway” paper bags. The two choices are plastic bags and fabric bags. Brands really need to audit their needs while also considering the environmental impact of each option. Take a look at what brands need to know when choosing between plastic and fabric bags.

The Starting Point: Is It Ever Okay to Use Plastic Bags in Packaging?

The trend is definitely moving away from plastic packaging. However, it’s important to note that many brands are able to integrate plastic into their eco-friendly packaging updates by utilizing plastic bags that are both recycled and recyclable. This choice invites customers to enter into a cycle of repurposing that allows them to feel good about the purchases they are making.

In most cases, brands may find that alternatives to plastic that are better for the environment exist. However, plastic can be considered a sanitary choice when it comes to food and hygiene products that may not be as compatible with an option like reusable fabric. Here’s a look at the benefits of recyclable plastic bags:

  • Plastic bags are often made from a highly durable, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) that is resistant to tearing.
  • Plastic bags made from materials like HDPE produce lower carbon emissions, waste, and byproducts when compared to many paper and cotton options.
  • The sturdiness of plastic bags makes them reusable in most cases. In fact, consumers are highly likely to repurpose plastic bags for everything from storage to trash collection.
  • Plastic bags can protect customers from leaks and drips.
  • Plastic bags are recyclable.

Of course, the many benefits of sturdy plastic bags doesn’t make them what would be considered an incredible choice for eco-friendly packaging. While plastic bags are recyclable, rates of recycling are on the lower side. Recycling plastic bags can be more difficult than recycling items like bottles or cans simply because gathering these bags can be more difficult. What’s more, they are prone to flying away, getting stuck in machines, and not providing a great return for the person doing the recycling. The ability for plastic bags to actually serve their eco-friendly purpose rests on the end user’s willingness to bring each plastic bag to a retail location to be processed by a recycling service.

Unfortunately, plastic bags that are not recycled are likely to end up in landfills. Due to the fact that plastic bags do not biodegrade, they are likely to harm marine life. In addition to harming creatures, bags can also infiltrate the food chain. We know that bags disintegrate into microplastics that can eventually end up in water, soil, animals, and humans. Yes, these are big implications for a brand to think of when making a decision about which type of bag to select.

Another Option for Sustainability: Reusable Plastic Polypropylene Bags

Brands may not be as backed into a corner as they think. There’s actually a step in between traditional plastic bags and reusable cotton bags. This option is the reusable polypropylene bag.

Polypropylene is a thermoplastic polymer that is actually used in a wide array of packaging options. It can also be used to create sturdy reusable bags. In fact, many of the reusable bags offered by grocery stores and retail stores today are reusable polypropylene bags. What’s more, many of the foods sold in grocery stores are actually held inside polypropylene containers. Polypropylene is an FDA-approved material for food contact. The last yogurt parfait, sour cream, or smoothie you had probably came from a polypropylene container. Polypropylene is even used in some medical devices. One of the big benefits of polypropylene is that it has high heat tolerance. It can even be safely heated in the microwave. This makes it an attractive option for reusable bags because it’s common for bags to be left in hot cars. Bags that are used in the shipping process also offer durability against exposure to heat and sunlight during transport and delivery.

Woven polypropylene bags are very attractive. They can be made in durable designs that feature handles for portability and ergonomics. In addition, they are lightweight, flexible, and highly breathable. Brands can even choose to add UV inhibitors when customizing these bags to increase their resistance to the elements. Overall, these bags are extremely resilient against wear and tear while also being resistant to solvents and oils.

Brands have every reason to take notice of polypropylene bags. Of course, the biggest reason is that customers take notice of them. Receiving a polypropylene bag is like getting a free gift. There is a high likelihood of reuse with these bags simply because they are the default shopping and grocery bags for so many people seeking to cut plastic and paper bags from their lives. Brands also have nearly unlimited potential when it comes to customizing these bags with artwork, messaging, brand logos, and more. In fact, your brand should think of a polypropylene bag as a billboard with handles!

Reusable Fabric Bags: How Do They Compare to Reusable Plastic Polypropylene Bags?

Reusable fabric bags have an enduring presence in the world of consumer packaging simply because of the quality, value, and sustainability they bring to the picture. Fabric bags can be made of several different materials. The most common options offered today are cotton and hemp. Fabric bags can last years when treated properly. They offer the benefits of being:

  • A cost-effective choice for the brand.
  • Extremely strong. Well-constructed fabric is unlikely to rip or tear.
  • Easy to carry. In fact, carrying a fabric bag can feel like carrying a purse.
  • Easy to clean. Unlike polypropylene bags, fabric bags can often be placed in the washing machine for thorough cleaning. This is important for customers seeking to keep their grocery bags sanitary between trips. Easy cleaning also prolongs the lifespan of a bag by allowing the user to continue to focus on washing instead of replacing.

Quality is really the defining feature when designing a fabric bag that is actually sustainable. According to researchers, the average cotton shopping bag would need to be reused 131 times to balance out its higher environmental impact in order for it to provide environmental benefits. For the brand supplying the bags, this means that there is a responsibility to design a bag that can realistically stand up to five years of use. It turns out that cutting corners when producing cotton bags is actually counterproductive because producing bags that will need to be replaced can make the pivot to sustainable packaging worse for the environment than traditional bagging and packaging options.

Making Sense of Your Options When Choosing Between Plastic and Fabric Bags for Your Brand: Talk to the Experts

Is your brand ready to make a big stand for its sustainable principles by moving to eco-friendly packaging? While your brand may be ready to make the move, the next step is actually a careful analysis to determine the option that truly reduces your environmental impact. Choosing the right reusable bag based on your product category can help you to provide value to your customers while also reducing the environmental impact of every purchase.

In many cases, brands find that the move to eco-friendly packaging is much more affordable than they anticipated. They also discover that using custom packaging options allows them to create a comprehensive plan for cost-effective, eco-friendly packaging with stronger brand messaging. Don’t spend another day wondering about the impression your “wasteful” packaging is making on consumers. Book your free packaging quote with Mid-Atlantic Packaging today.