Many retailers and consumers alike are beginning to have a heightened awareness of the need to be more eco-friendly.
This has led many stores and shoppers to start using reusable bags instead of the traditional plastic bag that has a reputation of not being eco-friendly.
Reusable tote bags are often made of fabric known as non-woven fabric, which can come in many different forms and be made from different materials.
But are these non-woven bags really more eco-friendly than the traditional plastic alternatives?
Non-woven bags can be more eco-friendly than single-use plastic bags provided that they are actually reused. But many of them are still made from some form of plastic material so they aren’t completely eco-friendly.
Continue reading, where we’ll explain what non-woven bags are made of and if some are more eco-friendly than others.
1. What Is Non-Woven Fabric?
Non-woven fabric refers to any fabric that is put together without the use of weaving or knitting.
Traditional woven fabrics such as those used for clothing are all made by turning the fibers into yarn and then weaving them together in various ways, regardless of what type of fiber the fabric is made of.
With non-woven fabrics, the fibers are bonded together either mechanically, thermally, or chemically without the use of a loom. The fibers also aren’t turned into yarn first.
Non-woven fabrics can be made out of a variety of different fiber types and can have a multitude of characteristics depending on what type of fiber the fabric is made of.
Examples of characteristics that non-woven fabrics can have include:
- Liquid repellent
However, it is worth noting that when it comes to non-woven bags, they are usually made out of one of two materials: polypropylene or polyester.
Non-woven polypropylene bags are the most common and are used or given away by stores and businesses for promotional purposes or in place of regular plastic bags.
But it can be very hard to tell the difference between polyester and polypropylene non-woven bags because they both have similar textures and properties.
2. How Are Non-Woven Bags Made?
To make non-woven bags, polypropylene or polyester polymers are spun into long fluffy threads using a combination of heat and air.
The threads are pressed together between hot rollers to create fabric.
Different pieces are then cut out of the fabric and sewn or attached to each other to create the bag itself.
3. Are Non-Woven Bags Eco-Friendly?
Although non-woven bags are eco-friendly in the sense that they can be reused over and over again, they are not entirely eco-friendly due to what they are made of.
Both polypropylene and polyester are forms of plastic that are created as a result of refining crude oil.
To make polypropylene and polyester, crude oil has to be refined with different chemicals and heavy manufacturing processes in order to create plastic polymers and give them certain characteristics.
There is the potential for pollution throughout the process of making plastic, including during the collection of the crude oil and the refinement of it.
Pollution could come in the form of an oil spill as well as air pollution through greenhouse gas emissions and soil and water pollution as a result of chemicals being leached or not being disposed of properly.
The process of turning the polypropylene and polyester polymers into bags isn’t as bad for the environment as the process of making the polymers in the first place.
Mostly mechanical processes are used, although the amount of energy used is still high in order to operate the machinery.
Most of the energy used comes from burning fossil fuels, which isn’t sustainable and has the potential to produce greenhouse gas emissions as well.
However, as long as you reuse non-woven bags as much as possible – especially for grocery shopping – you can still be eco-friendly since you won’t be using as many single-use plastic bags.
4. Are Non-Woven Bags Sustainable?
Again, non-woven bags can be sustainable as long as you reuse them as much as possible and for as long as possible.
But the materials that they are made out of are not sustainable since crude oil is a non-renewable resource.
Since crude oil is used to not only make polypropylene and polyester but a lot of other plastics as well, it will eventually run out.
And despite them being reusable, more non-woven bags are still being made which leads to more crude oil having to be refined as a result.
5. Are Non-Woven Bags Biodegradable?
Since non-woven bags are most often made from polypropylene or polyester, they are not biodegradable.
Many types of plastic do not decompose at all or can take a long time to decompose.
With that being said, polypropylene will decompose slowly and can take up to 20 or 30 years to break down.
But since it doesn’t decompose quickly and it doesn’t break down into natural elements when it does decompose, it can’t be considered biodegradable.
6. Are Non-Woven Bags Toxic?
Although all types of plastic are made with chemicals that can be considered toxic and can potentially cause cancer, polypropylene is generally considered to be safe compared to other forms of plastic.
In other words, as long as you use a non-woven bag for its intended purpose and don’t burn it, don’t let it biodegrade, and don’t do anything that could otherwise cause the chemicals to be released, the bags are safe and shouldn’t cause problems even if you reuse them over and over again.
7. Are Non-Woven Bags Durable?
Non-woven bags are generally very durable as well as strong, versatile, and reusable.
Non-woven bags made from polypropylene are also water-resistant, even more so than non-woven bags made from polyester.
Polypropylene is also breathable, so any non-woven bag made from it will dry quickly if they do get wet.
8. Are Non-Woven Bags Washable?
Non-woven bags made from both polypropylene and polyester are washable, which is good if you use them for grocery shopping in order to avoid potential cross-contamination.
They can also be wiped clean with a disinfecting wipe or cloth (learn more about eco-friendly wet wipes here).
If you do use them for groceries, it’s a good idea to have separate ones for meat, produce, cleaning products, etc., and use the same one for the same purpose each time.
9. Do Non-Woven Bags Shed Microplastics?
Because they are made from synthetic fibers, non-woven bags do have the potential to shed microplastics into the environment and the ocean as they break down over time due to weathering.
It’s estimated that synthetic textiles produce around 35% of microplastic pollution in the ocean, which is one of the largest sources of microplastics.
Disposing of non-woven bags properly at the end of their life can help prevent some of this pollution.
10. Are Non-Woven Bags Recyclable?
Most non-woven bags made from polypropylene are recyclable but whether or not you can recycle them just depends on if your local recycling program will take them.
If they are recycled, they can even be used to make new bags which would make the bags more eco-friendly.
11. How to Dispose of Non-Woven Bags Properly
The best way to dispose of non-woven bags is to recycle them if they are accepted by your local program.
But before you recycle them, you should try to reuse them for as long as possible in order to make them as eco-friendly as possible.
If you can’t recycle them when it is time to dispose of them, the only other choice is to throw them away.
They will go to a landfill and as long as they are made from polypropylene, they will eventually decompose.
However, it won’t be in a way that is eco-friendly as it could lead to chemicals being leached into the environment.
3 Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Non-Woven Bags
Non-woven bags are already more eco-friendly than single-use plastic bags because of their ability to be reused over and over again.
However, they are still made from plastic which is not the most eco-friendly or sustainable option.
Instead, try giving these even more eco-friendly options a try.
1. Recycled Non-Woven Bags
Non-woven bags made out of recycled polypropylene aren’t as common as non-woven bags made out of virgin polypropylene.
But if you can find them, they are a more eco-friendly option because it eliminates the need to make more polypropylene out of crude oil and they are just as reusable as well.
2. Cotton Tote Bags
Cotton tote bags are another eco-friendly option compared to non-woven tote bags made from polypropylene.
3. Bamboo Tote Bags
Bamboo is another natural and sustainable material that is a more eco-friendly option than non-woven polypropylene.
It’s biodegradable, durable, washable, and tote bags made from it can be reused multiple times instead of using single-use plastic bags.
Most non-woven bags are made from polypropylene and are marketed as being more eco-friendly than single-use plastic bags.
This is true, in a way, because non-woven bags can be reused dozens of times.
However, they are made from a type of plastic themselves which is not the most eco-friendly or sustainable material.
For the most eco-friendly option, look for non-woven bags made from recycled polypropylene or a natural fabric such as cotton or bamboo.