Posted by: brandextenders | November 3, 2010

It’s in the Bag, Literally!

I’ve been in the promotional marketing business a long time and have gathered quite a collection of tote bags of all sizes over the years, most of them made from cotton. Over the last few years though I’ve noticed the tide turning and tote bags being made from weird things like eco-cotton, bamboo, jute (a distant cousin of the flute?), recycled plastic bottles and non-woven materials. Perhaps you are as confused as I am as to what all these new-fangled materials are and this blog is intended to sort things out for all of us.

Jute Plants in India

All of the materials mentioned are eco-friendly, meaning for the most part they are made from either recycled materials or organic products which use less pesticides and other chemicals in their production. Let’s take a look at what you’re getting with each of these:

  1. Eco-cotton: Cotton is grown using potentially toxic pesticides, fertilizers and herbicides, is a highly water-intensive crop and is dyed those beautiful colors using heavy-metal chemicals while organic or eco-cotton uses few if any chemicals, much less water and is typically harvested by hand which means less waste. And organic cotton is either left natural or uses vegetable or low-impact synthetic dyes. So the bottom line for eco-cotton is it’s more environmentally friendly although you’ll spend more for it because less is grown world-wide.
  2. Bamboo: One of the fastest growing plants with growth rates in the right environment of more than 24” a day! This durable fiber has been used in China for millennia to make paper and is now used in products as diverse as medicine, construction materials and pickled bamboo, a supposedly delectable treat. In the promotional products world you’ll find bags as well apparel using bamboo which is known for its softness as a fiber and anti-microbial qualities.
  3. Jute: I have to admit I’ve never seen a jute plant live and up close, but next to cotton it’s one of the most cultivated plants with a variety of uses. The fiber from this plant is spun into a course thread and used to make products like rope, twine, curtains, sacks, burlap and tote bags! In addition to being a cheaper alternative to cotton it is considered biodegradable and very durable. The majority of jute is grown in third-world countries with India being the biggest producer by far and jute is also being used to make paper in an effort to save trees.
  4. Recycled Plastic: PET stands for Polyethylene Terephthalate (say that 10 times quickly) and is a durable plastic used in the packaging of cosmetics, food products and soft drinks (or soda pop for those of us in the south). When these containers are recycled they are crushed, melted and one of the uses is in making a polyester fiber that is woven into products such as tote bags as well as apparel. Our company carries a shirt made from recycled bottles and other recycled PET products that is both moisture wicking and eco-friendly. You’ll pay slightly more for these products because of the efforts required to recycle the materials and turn them into new consumer goods.
  5. Non-Woven: Fabrics referred to as non-woven are engineered fabrics made into flat, porous sheets from separate fibers, molten plastic or plastic film. They are not made like traditional fabrics that require fibers to be converted into yarn and then knitted or woven. Non-woven materials do not exclusively use recycled materials, but they might include a certain percentage of recycled products. In addition to tote bags, cinch bags and other similar products in our industry, non-woven materials are also used in making carpet backing, medical apparel, hygiene products (i.e. baby diapers) and filters.

So there you have it. What was once an easy decision in choosing something as simple as a tote bag now has a myriad of options that can be mind-boggling and confusing. The thing to remember is that with all of these options you are, at least in theory, buying products that are easier on the environment however you can expect to pay slightly more for that convenience.

Now I’m waiting for someone to start creating tote bags out of Kudzu, that creeping vine brought to the Southeastern United States from Asia in the late 1800’s as an ornamental vine. It’s hard to kill, grows several inches a day and kills the trees and bushes it covers. It would be sweet revenge on a plant that some even say has eaten their pets!!

With 24 years in promotional marketing, Steve Woodburn works with clients to develop creative and measurable solutions that solve their marketing needs using promotional products, uniform programs, online company stores, point-of-sale initiatives and rewards and recognition. He builds long-term relationships and becomes a trusted advisor and consultant his clients can turn to for all their brand extension needs. You can reach him at:

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