With the increase in awareness of the dangers of using one-time-use plastic items & many states banning the use of plastic bags (List), many citizens, retail stores & MNCs are considering eco-friendly alternatives to their plastic usage. We have numerous companies, who are now supplying various options like cloth bags, jute bags, tarpaulin bags, bio-degradable bags & cutlery. While there are multiple debates about what makes an item eco-friendly and what makes it sustainable, here are a few things to be considered before you choose to buy your eco-friendly alternative.
* this note focuses more on ecofriendly bags, but similar rules apply to other ecofriendly products)
ECO-FRIENDLINESS of an item needs to weighed by the 3 golden rules:
Reduce - Reuse - Recycle
It is not only about ‘if the item is bio-degradable or not’, it is also about its purpose *What is it replacing? ( ..and yes! tarpaulin bags are an ecofriendly alternative, as it is highly durable & functional) *How is it helping in REDUCING consumption & disposal? *Is it REUSABLE? *How durable is it? *Can it be RECYCLED? *Do you know how to recycle what you buy?
Here are some pointers for buyers to consider before they buy a eco-friendly bag.
We mostly pick the bag for its design, so that it matches our personality. We must also consider the quality and durability of the bag. Cheaper and light-weight cloth bags & bio-degradable bags usually don’t last long and we will probably throw it away if it tears. We need to also make sure we re-use the bags for various occasions and it is easy to maintain.
Quality & Durability
To check the quality and durability of the bag, have a closer look at the stitches, folds and fabric thickness. Most cotton bags are heavily starched which masks the thread count & adds extra weight , making the fabric appear thick. Take your time feeling the fabric before you make your choice. Check if it is interlock stitched on the inside(This prevents threads and stitches from falling apart when used&washed over a long period of time). Check for cross stitches on handles.
Design & Comfort
Most bags available in the market have very thin handles (0.75” or 1” wide) or handles are stitched using tapes (knitted ribbons) which is a cheaper option for the manufacturer. We at Earthworks, ensure comfort of use by offering cotton fabric handles that are at least 1.25” wide and 23” long. The handles are long enough for people of all sizes to carry over their shoulders. The handles are cross stitched so that it doesn't rip off easily and enhanced weight capacity.
Even our Jute & Cotton TOTE bags, whose handles are made with jute, have a soft cotton fabric lining on the inside, so that the jute texture doesn't harm the skin due to friction. In fact our bags are designed in such a way that the jute portion of the bag does not come in contact with our skin when you wear it.
Sustainability of design: The standard dimension of all our bags are in such a way, that there is little or no excess fabric wasted in the production process. We also have our up-cycled line, where we take excess fabrics from garment makers to replace the cotton part of the bag. ( our collection)
Maintenance & End of Life: This also where the durability of the bag comes into play, choose bags that are easily machine washable, ensure the colours of the fabric doesn't run & it is easy to fold and store. Pick brands that offer to recycle/ replace your bags once you are done using it. We at Earthworks offer to collect our used bags ( * conditions apply) If you are buying bio-degradeable bags or cutlery, make sure you know how to compost them or return to manufacturer for recycling.
BULK ORDER / RETAIL / CORPORATE GIFTING
When we chose to give away ecofriendly bags, we mostly do it for gratification or to enhance the brand’s moral or to enhance/incorporate our company’s green policy. We need consider whether the IDEA or the PURPOSE behind giving away or retailing is SUSTAINABLE, and if we are doing enough to make sure our recipients change their habits (by reusing the bags).We need to consider who are target audience are and offer them functional , durable & trendy bags that encourages them to use it more often. The COST being the most vital element in most cases, here are a few other things that should be considered while ordering in bulk:
Design & Customisation
As a retailer, consider offering bags from brands who have various designs and sizes to target a wider TA. As a corporate giving away gifts, choose a supplier who can customise your bags and offer suggestion on how to translate your ideas into sustainable designs.
For both kind of buyers, we at Earthworks always suggest generic designs, with smaller yet powerful branding, so that it encourages our customers to carry it more often.
As mentioned above, Please consider all the factors that make a bag ‘of good quality’.
Many ecofriendly brands offer more than 1 socio-economic benefit to their product. As a buyer, consider doing background checks for the reliability of suppliers & sustainability of the socio-economic/ecological benefit claims.
Supplier & Certification
Many of the ecofriendly suppliers/business are relatively new not only due to the increase in demand of ecofriendly bags in the market, but also because most of them have ventured into this space because their pure love to work towards conserving the environment. Newcomers shouldn't be turned away because of lack of experience, however their previous/existing clients, production capacity, size of the company, transparency of fabric sources/production processes, reliability as a supplier (timely delivery) & in-house capacity (to print/embroider/customise ) are key pointers when you choose your vendor.
Most MNCs are concerned about where their products are coming from, hence require certification for organic products. There are various agencies who certify organic products, but the most popular of them in relation to fabrics or bags are:
Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) , USDA National Organic Programme (NOP) , NATIONAL PROGRAMME FOR ORGANIC PRODUCTION (NPOP), ECOCERT & many more
Affordability & Quantity
The cost of the product (like bags) is equivalent to the quantity. Main reason being the allotment of workers to make the products. It is easier and more economical for the manufacturers to make a larger qty, especially if it is a custom design. This is because they need to calibrate the machines/train workers to make the new customised product. Also do keep in mind, the raw material costs vary considerably due to constant changes in taxes and other factors. When a retailer, or a corporate places a bulk order, a few important cost factors to be considered are:
Custom Print “Keep it simple” - When you want to custom print, you need to understand the limitations, possibilities, and different types of printing and its pricing. Most suppliers ask for simple designs with minimal colour in order to ensure good print output and to save time ( it is usually screen printing as it is economical). If your design is complicated, it is usually digital printed. Given our limitations in availability of number of printers in south India, this would require a longer lead time.
Design “Keep it simple.... and functional” - With the increasing need to ‘stand out’ and be ‘creative’ with our giveaways, we sometime forget the basics. Talk to your supplier and try to design bags that are simple to produce, easy to print on, and functional for the end user. Ensure the designs enhance the multi-functionality and durability of the product.
Value add-ons “ ...is it necessary?” - The most basic add-ons are extra pockets, which is both functional and easy to produce. BUT, please reconsider using plastic zips, velcro & plastic snap buttons, rubberised prints & other products which use a lot of petro-chemicals in their production process; as it decreases the “eco-friendly” element of the bags you are customising. These add-ons are the first ones to break/go weak, which decreases the life of the bag. Most manufacturers/suppliers who do give in to clients requests, face the brunt of “not providing good quality” products.
Sampling & Lead Time “ Plan ahead”- It usually takes up to a week to make custom design samples with print. The lead time is the time taken to source fabrics, customise and deliver your order. The timeline as mentioned earlier is proportional to the quantity.
Cost effectiveness " Be considerate"
The same rules for any project management apply; If you need it fast and cheap, the quality is going to suffer. If you need good quality and fast, it is going to be expensive. If you need it cheap, but good quality, it is going to take a very long time. So the best way to do this is to plan ahead and consider all the above elements so that both you and your supplier have the satisfaction of having delivered a GOOD QUALITY, FUNCTIONAL, CUSTOMISED ECO-FRIENDLY BAG
I hope this note was simple & informative.
Do share this with friends who buy Eco-friendly products, decision makers of companies who buy Eco-friendly give aways in bulk, & retailers.