A Plastic Bag by Any Other Name

11 Mar 2010 A Plastic Bag by Any Other Name

How Green Are These Reusable Shopping Bags?


First let me say I love Kohl’s retail stores. If you are looking for almost any brand name product ranging from clothing and bedding to luggage and small kitchen appliances, Kohls’ makes it difficult to pay “full retail price” with their never ending sales and promotions. They are terrific but when they stretch the green truth, I feel a strong obligation to call them out on it.

The Ready to Reuse Shopping Bag

At first glance it looked like a great idea. A reusable shopping bag that thanks to a unique design and a well placed snap, neatly folds up into a compact little package. I am sure we all mostly agree the use of reusable shopping bags is probably a good idea so anything that will make them easier to carry and use can only be a plus. Add some green graphics, some cool green buzz words and voila, you have a … plastic bag.

“The Devil Is in the Details”

Was one of my grandfather’s favorite sayings and an eternal, indisputable truth. No matter what the subject or when it is being said, the small unobvious details are often where the truth or lack of it can be found.

A close look at the small tag, I found deep inside of the bag told me so much more than the colorful bag or the outer tag so prominently displayed. The bag is 100% polypropylene, which of course is nothing more than plastic. This particular bag, like most that are used to help “save the earth”, is imported from China. I think most of our readers know how I feel about importing products like this from the other side of the world, especially when over 10% of our own population is unemployed.

Putting that carbon footprint and exporting jobs issues aside, here are some other things that are likely to go unnoticed by the average reusable bag buyer.

  • There is no indication of recycled content. That is not good.
  • There are no instructions for the ultimate disposal of the bag. It will eventually have to be discarded, but how?
  • The tag clearly indicates it is not for use with food but can’t we assume people shop for groceries more often than they do for sox and underwear? Shouldn’t that important information be somewhere where people are more likely to see it?
  • Since it is likely to be used for grocery shopping, wouldn’t it be great if it was washable? Google “reusable bag germs” and get ready to be shocked.

Am I Anti Reusable Bag?

Not at all, but as a lifelong packaging person with a deep interest and commitment to preserving the environment, here are a few things I suggest you keep in mind if you decide to buy and use reusable shopping bags.

  1. Make sure the bag is made of natural fibers. Don’t replace multiple, easily recycled plastic bags with one that can only wind up in a land fill.
  2. Ideally a bag should have some amount of recycled content.
  3. Make sure you know where and how you will eventually dispose of it.
  4. If possible, TRY to find something that is made in America.

The Myth and Truth about Lemmings

The rodents of that name do not follow each other into a suicidal Arctic plunge as is the popular belief. However, well meaning retailers have indeed been known to follow each other all the way to China in search of a low cost product that will appeal to their increasingly eco minded customers.

Let’s face it, this is not all that technical and it is not like buying high tech electronic equipment. All it takes is a few good questions and any retailer can do green and do it right.