Recycled grocery bag origins
June 5, 2010 4:35 AM   Subscribe

What's the story behind those ubiquitous cloth grocery bags?

You see them for sale at every grocery store, often with custom silk-screened logos printed on the side. I've only found very little information about where they come from or how they are made. Does anyone have any information about them? This question came to mind after I watched the documentary "Mardi Gras: Made in China."
posted by billtron to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I don't know, but I saw some at target that were literally made from recycled target bags. Not melted down and reprocessed, but twisted and folded and woven into a more permanent thing.
posted by gjc at 4:48 AM on June 5, 2010

ummm... what are you really asking here? Maybe I'm missing something, but as I read your question, it seems like "how come I see chocolate for sale everywhere?" How do I answer that?

Are you asking if they're really environmentally "better" than paper or plastic?

Are you asking where they are made?

Are you asking why they are so popular?

Are you asking why they are being sold in every store as an alternative to paper or plastic?

Give us a little more to go on, please.
posted by segatakai at 5:20 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Whole Foods bags are, according to this blog, made in China using 80% recycled materials (plastic bottles).
posted by acidic at 5:34 AM on June 5, 2010

In 1990s, governments in some countries started to impose taxes on distribution of disposable plastic bags or to regulate the use of them. Supermarkets increasingly discourage consumers from using disposable plastic bags and offer alternative reusable shopping bags with small prices, providing information on environmental damage associated with plastic bags.[1] Because of these encouragements, reusable shopping bags are gradually taking place beside plastic bags.

From the Reusable Grocery Bag Wikipedia entry.

I hope this is what you were asking segatakai, your question doesn't have enough information to really go off of.
posted by kro at 5:36 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think it's pretty clear from the example links that the OP is asking about potentially negative environmental impact hidden by the flashy promise of "green! green! buy!", perhaps coupled with some Foxconn-timed curiosity about the ethics and human cost of the manufacturing process. But I could be wrong, and the OP doesn't need my help...
posted by thejoshu at 5:48 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I don't know anything about cloth grocery bags in particular. But please realize that even if they're made with cheap labor in grim third-world conditions, that's not necessarily a bad thing.
posted by Jaltcoh at 6:19 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

My sister's company makes these in Rwanda using textiles produced in East Africa. They do well by the people who manufacture them.
posted by alms at 6:30 AM on June 5, 2010

Yeah, I'm on the "OP is asking about environmental impact/economic reality of the production of these bags" train:

The "Reusable bags" at my local chain are made of 95% recycled material, so they're not using up (much?) new petroleum.
posted by knile at 8:05 AM on June 5, 2010

Usually every product you buy has a tag telling the manufacturing country of origin. Clothes, shoes, bags, electronics, books, tools, etc. As with almost every consumer product, it is most likely made in China. That's the average business model. While I try to avoid buying from China, in most cases it is difficult if not impossible.

At the very least, the bags tell consumers that is acceptable to bring in your own re-usable bags to the grocery store. I do it although I don't buy the ones at the grocery store. You can even make your own cloth ones if you have basic sewing skills. Some stores offer locally made bags or free trade bags. They aren't hard to find in most metropolitan areas.

I would suggest if you are interested in showing support for various domestic manufacturers, then check the tag and buy North American if possible. For example, I just bought a new pair of running shoes and found that New Balance makes shoes here in the US. Surprisingly the cost is about the same as an equivalent pair of Nikes. Here we have bought into the idea of cheaper goods from China when it is cheaper only for the manufacturer. All that means is they make a higher profit.
posted by JJ86 at 8:17 AM on June 5, 2010

Yeah, if you're really concerned about this, the easiest thing to do is to make your own out of re-purposed fabrics. I have a friend who is making bags out of old band t-shirts that she picks up at thrift stores - they're good looking, popular, and very sturdy.
posted by anastasiav at 8:27 AM on June 5, 2010

The one I have handy is made by this company: EarthWise Bags
posted by smackfu at 8:59 AM on June 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

In San Francisco there is a partial ban on plastic bags. Many of us now use cloth/cloth-like-material reusable bags pretty consistently when we did not before (at least that's true for me). Meaning many hundreds maybe thousands of paper & plastic bags never created or used, and way less almost none plastic bag litter in the streets. So we are enthusiastic here about reusable bags.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:25 AM on June 5, 2010

Your question is too broad to answer since there are so many different kinds of bags and places to get them. I know a local store that sells bags that are very clearly and obviously made from recycled/remaindered cloth and old clothes. That's probably very good for the environment.

Some are made from canvas, which is usually natural fiber. It's renewable, but how it was farmed, how the cotton was treated (bleached, etc) and how far it was transported determines how environmentally friendly it is.

Others are made from nonwoven fabric, which is essentially plastic felt and is environmentally unpleasant to make. The amount of recycled plastic that can be used to make them is between 0 and and about 85%. Even if it's mostly recycled the process of making the material is very energy and chemical intensive and isn't any good for the environment.

And of course all of these may or may not be made in sweatshops by children.
posted by Ookseer at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2010

I can tell you exactly where some of the canvas ones are made.

These bags (imported by a member of my family) are made by women in Sri Lanka whom he personally knows. They have allowed one woman, the sole provider for a large family including several members with severe disabilities, to have the first house with a roof and permanent walls that she has ever lived in in her life.
posted by Madamina at 10:42 AM on June 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

Are you asking that they all seem to be a universal spec?
posted by MuffinMan at 11:06 AM on June 5, 2010

Best answer: I think know exactly what you're talking about. You don't mean reusable bags in general, but more specifically the kind of plasticy ones that are for sale as "eco" reusable grocery bags in grocery stores everywhere, right?

This is a bag in that general makeup, Target uses them, and so does Giant Eagle, and probably a million other stores. It doesn't say where it was made, but maybe you could find out some more information by asking the people at that website?
posted by that girl at 8:08 PM on June 5, 2010

I have a whole bunch of the Target bags, and they have a tag that directs you to (a flash site, bleh). When I selected the the US from the map that appears there, I was directed to this site where there is a faq.
posted by Famous at 9:07 AM on June 7, 2010

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