Cloth bags have become a popular alternative to plastic and paper shopping bags, in part because cloth bags do not cause the environmental harm of plastic bags. However, cloth bags are not only for the environmentally-conscious consumer. Unlike the free bagging alternatives, cloth bags usually come with a nominal price tag, but the advantages of reusing cloth bags outweigh this small cost.
Cotton, hemp or jute shopping bags are made from renewable natural fibers, unlike propylene plastic bags that are made from limited fossil fuels. The process used to create plastic releases contaminant by-products into the atmosphere and the end product does not biodegrade for hundreds of years. Cloth bags are woven from thread made from plants and since cloth is a plant product, cloth bags are ultimately biodegradable, although most consumers choose to reuse the bags.
Cloth bags are thicker than plastic bags, which makes them strong enough to be used again and again. According to the Sierra Club website, hemp or cotton bags can last for hundreds of uses. Some types of cloth bags have a stiff cardboard insert in the base that adds additional stability. In general, cloth bags are larger than plastic bags, so they are capable of holding larger items. Plastic grocery store bags can also be reused; however, punctures or overloading can render a thin plastic bag unusable. Cloth bags are also more durable than paper bags, which lose integrity if they become wet.
Unlike plastic bags that are often transparent and decorated with a store logo, cloth bags are available in a variety of colors, shapes and sizes that can match your personal style. Cloth bags need not be used only for shopping; they make an attractive tote for carrying a variety of everyday items. Designer cloth bags can be purchased from retailers, or crafty consumers can sew their own personalized bags. Reusable cloth bags can also offer the opportunity to make a style statement about green living through advertisement of green retailers or organizations.