Sustainability is not an easy task. As we understand more about how our environment works and humans’ impact on the environment, sustainability practices have shifted. While it’s natural for conclusions to change as science reveals more about our world, it can cause some confusion among the general population. It’s hard to tell which sustainability practices are better than others.
This is especially true when it comes to the end of a product’s life. It’s common knowledge that we must be careful with our waste, and that reducing waste is a major sustainability goal. However, it’s not commonly known how to properly manage your waste. As your company explores your reusable bag options, it’s important to consider disposal. Here’s a quick guide to recyclable versus biodegradable bag options and which reusable bags are the most recyclable.
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Recyclable versus biodegradable: which is better?
To know which is best, we must turn to the waste hierarchy. According to the waste hierarchy, reusing materials is the most optimal form of waste management (behind prevention of waste entirely). Right below that is recycling materials. But, some materials cannot be recycled, so what do we do with those materials when our products are no longer usable?
Biodegradable options fall lower on the waste hierarchy scale, but they also ensure that even improperly disposed of items will eventually break down and return to the earth. They are a less preferable option to recyclable materials, but at the same time, recyclable options require actions from the consumer to be properly managed—they must send the materials to a recycling center—while biodegradable options can simply be thrown away. While recyclable options are better for the environment if recycled, they may be worse than biodegradable options if they aren’t disposed of properly.
When choosing a reusable bag for your company, it’s important to keep your consumers in mind. Do you anticipate that your customers are more likely to take the extra steps to recycle their bags, or would you rather offer a biodegradable option that will break down regardless of how the bag is disposed of? This is up to you.
As you decide which option you prefer, here are the most recyclable reusable bags as well as biodegradable options.
Most recyclable reusable bags
Whether or not an item is recyclable depends upon a number of factors. It must be easily collected and sorted. There must be machines available that have the capacity to recycle the material. The recycled material must also be strong enough that it can be remade and sold. Sometimes, it’s possible for something to be recycled, but the effort and cost required to recycle the material is too much to be worth it.
Furthermore, some materials can only be recycled a limited number of times before they must be disposed of. Materials like plastic textiles are among those. This means that, even if you invest in a recycled reusable bag, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it can be recycled again.
Here are some of the most recyclable bags offered by bk-bags.
Non-woven PP bags are actually made from a plastic material: polypropylene. However, not all plastic is bad, and polypropylene can be easily melted down and recycled. Unlike some other plastics, non-woven PP bags can be recycled multiple times, making them one of the top recyclable options.
Woven PP bags are similar to non-woven PP bags except that they are made of strips of non-woven PP rather than being pressed together with heat. This makes for a more durable bag. Because woven and non-woven PP bags are made from the same material, they can both be recycled multiple times. Bkbags also offer recycled woven PP material, which good for the environment.
rPET bags are made from recycled plastic materials. The rPET bags at bk-bags are made entirely from recycled PET bottles (such as disposable water bottles). The result is a soft fabric that feels similar to polyester or other synthetic fabrics. Polyethylene terephthalate, the plastic which is found in rPET bags, is actually the most recyclable plastic out there. It can be recycled nearly endlessly, and extenders can be added to the chemical process to allow the plastic to be recycled for longer.
Polyester is a synthetic material made from petroleum—a non-renewable resource. In fact, rPET bags can be made from recycled polyester. However, polyester is more difficult to recycle than other textiles, and it can only be recycled a limited number of times. If choosing a polyester bag, it should be reused to its utmost extent before it’s recycled in order to optimally reduce its global warming potential.
Least recyclable reusable bags (but biodegradable)
As mentioned previously, some materials could be recycled, but the cost and effort associated are too much to attempt. In these cases, you want to make sure that your bags are biodegradable so that they don’t sit in a landfill forever.
When something is biodegradable, it means that it will eventually break down completely. Unlike plastic, which will never fully decompose, biodegradable bags will eventually go back to the earth. According to the waste hierarchy, biodegradable items fall below recycling in terms of sustainability preference, but they have the added benefit of eventually decomposing regardless of how they are disposed of, making them a convenient option.
Here are the reusable bags that cannot be easily recycled but that are biodegradable.
Biobags are made of a plastic that can be industrially compostable. They’re made from a resin that can be broken down by microorganisms. Biobags offer the perfect alternative to standard plastic bags because they’re nearly the same as plastic bags and offer all of the convenience, but unlike plastic bags, they won’t litter our earth forever.
While cotton bags can be recycled, the recycling process is not easy. Additionally, any logos printed on cotton cannot be recycled and have to be cut out of the bag, leaving a large portion of textile unrecycled. However, cotton bags do naturally decompose (although, the logo on the bag may not). If you truly want to recycle your cotton bags, you can take them to a textile recycling center.
Bamboo textiles can only be recycled under certain circumstances. However, since they are made from bamboo, they will decompose in a matter of months or just a handful of years. Once your bamboo bag starts to fail, don’t expect to send it to a recycling center, but you can put it in the compost and watch it degrade over time.
When it comes to choosing eco-friendly reusable bags, it’s never straightforward. You must consider the production process, ease of disposal, and whether your customers are likely to dispose of your reusable bags in a proper way. As with all things in life, there are pros and cons to both biodegradable and recyclable materials. Take the time to explore your options and decide which direction is right for your company.
Have questions? Contact bk-bags today, and we can help you choose a reusable bag that you’ll love.