Finding the perfect bag is a personal choice. It has to carry our essentials, not be any larger than necessary, and be chic yet comfortable. Eco-conscious consumers have yet another requirement: Our bag also has to be sustainable.

What Materials for Bags Are Sustainable?

For a material to be considered sustainable, it has to meet certain criteria — which have changed over the years due to technological advancements. Organic cotton used to be a top choice for making sustainable bags, but the sheer amount of water the material requires has made it fall further down the desirability list. Canvas, too, is made from cotton, plus many canvas bags have been so chemically treated as to render them non-degradable.

By today’s standards, a sustainable material should come from a replenishable, ethical source, be manufactured under eco-friendly conditions, and not be detrimental to the environment once it’s reached the end of its lifespan — it can’t be considered green if it’s going to sit around in a landfill for the next few thousand years.

That nixes most synthetic materials, such as nylon and polyester, which come from non-renewable resources and are often non-biodegradable. Many shoppers have also opted to avoid animal-based materials such as leather, especially now that vegan leather has advanced so far that it’s often impossible to tell the difference from the real thing.

Instead, look for ethically sourced plant-based fabrics such as hemp, bamboo, and washable paper — the last having the added benefits of durability and being easy to clean.

Does the Manufacturing Process Affect a Bag’s Sustainability?

Most definitely. Even if you used the most sustainable material, bags produced in, say, a diesel-powered factory with lots of chemicals would not be considered sustainable. Unfortunately, labels only show the materials the product contains, not the resources needed to power the factory, so the only way to know for sure how a bag is produced is to check the manufacturer’s website. If that information is conspicuously absent, contact a company representative.

Separate to sustainability but closely related, the ethics of the work conditions might also be a consideration for some consumers. Look for products that practice ethical labor standards and that have SA8000® certification, the global standard for manufacturing facilities.

Companies that produce ethical and sustainable products are generally quite proud of that fact and so will make that information readily available for consumers to find, like we do.

Are Sustainable Bags Affordable?

Why, yes! And we’re glad you asked. Thanks to market competition, the price for eco-friendly bags has dropped, while the number of material and design options has risen. What was out of financial reach for many shoppers just a few years ago has now become both affordable and mainstream. And at our parent company, KeepCool, affordability is one of four pillars, which means we strive to keep prices within reach.

With so many choices for bag material, there’s no reason you have to settle for sustainable over chic when you can have both. Just remember that you play a role in your bag’s sustainability: You have to use it! Even the most eco-friendly bag could have a negative environmental impact if the resources required to get it in your hands outweigh those you were hoping to offset through its repeated use. So make sure you always bring your reusables to the grocery store, farmers market, and mall to get the most mileage out of them.

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