The steady drive for environment protection and sustainable enterprise over the last two decades has resulted in a growing market for reusable grocery bags. The bags come in a wide variety of fabrics and materials. Each has its strengths and drawbacks.
Choice often comes down to the unique requirements of one’s business. Determining what is the difference between polypropylene, nylon, and polyester reusable bags will ultimately lead to the decision on which one will work for your business brand and your overall business message.
The following is a look at the more popular materials used for reusable grocery bags.
Cotton bags can be made from organic cotton (grown without pesticides), recycled cotton (reclaimed cotton scrap) or traditional cotton (chemically treated, raw and natural). Cotton comes in different densities with denser varieties being heavier. Conventional cotton canvas bags are denser and therefore costlier than lighter cotton bags.
Advantages of reusable cotton bags include the soft smooth texture, strength, durability, biodegradability, wide availability and ease of washing. Its drawbacks are its susceptibility to moisture damage, high cost of production and shipping, and shrinking from machine washing.
Polypropylene is a versatile resin polymer. Its low cost of production and relative durability has seen nonwoven polypropylene regarded as one of the best materials for reusable bags. The polypropylene is measured in grams per square meter (GSM), a gauge of the density and weight of the material. Bags with higher GSM are stronger and more expensive.
People who prefer woven polypropylene grocery bags usually cite their strength, resistance to chemical corrosion, ease of wiping clean, low porosity, diversity of color options and the flexibility in brand printing. Its major disadvantages are that it’s non-biodegradable, it’s made from petrochemicals, it isn’t soft to the touch and it’s unsuitable for machine washing.
Nylon is a synthetic polymer that was initially produced as a substitute for silk in fabrics. Nylon fabric is typically found in track pants, some tights, lightweight jackets, pantyhose, swimwear, umbrellas etc. More recently, it has found application in reusable bags thanks to its ease of maintenance.
Nylon reusable bags are durable, strong, lightweight, readily foldable, easily dyed and water resistant. They are however non-biodegradable, petroleum-based and acquire a crumpled unpleasant appearance under heavy use.
If you took time to examine the labels on your clothes, one type of fabric is likely to come up more than most: polyester. Polyester is a polyethylene terephthalate (PET) polymer, the same material used to make drink bottles. It was invented in 1941 but really gained traction in the 1970s when it took over disco wear by storm. Polyester would thereafter be disparaged as the fabric for cheap suits but its reputation has steadily improved as quality and application increased.
Polyester reusable bags are versatile, water resistant, do not crinkle easily and are foldable. On the flip side, the bags are made from plastic, the material doesn’t break down easily upon disposal, and heavy use leads to wearing off of any branding ink on its surface.
Hemp is not only drought tolerant but also thrives without the need for fertilizers or pesticides. An acre of hemp yields 3 to 6 tons of fiber while needing little water to grow. Hemp fiber is long, strong and durable. It’s great for making organic reusable bags.
Hemp reusable bags are extremely strong (it’s multiple times stronger than cotton), durable, rot resistant, soft and smooth to touch, can be machine washed, ‘break in’ with repeated use (in a similar way to leather) and can be combined with other materials such as recycled PET or cotton. On the downside, hemp usually has to be imported in much of the Western world which adds to the overall cost of the bags.
No matter what type of reusable bag you choose or your business provides for customers, it’s always better for the planet than the alternative i.e. single use plastic or paper bags. Initially, reusable bags were drab and boring. Over time, they have become sophisticated and fashionable ensuring users get the best of both worlds. When buying a reusable bag, pay attention to the denier number. It’s a measure of the strength of a material. The higher the denier number, the stronger the material. Your business has an opportunity to take the lead and it will have a positive impact on it’s brand reputation.