Branded carrier bags are produced in all sorts of designs and materials in factories across the world. Recently public awareness of the environmental impact of plastic carrier bags has led to sharply increased demand for environmentally friendly carrier bags.
Necessarily, this limits your design options. As experienced retail packaging designers, we know what works and doesn't so here's our quick guide to the main things to consider when producing biodegradable and eco friendly carrier bags.
1) Paper bags great, fabric bags OK, plastic carrier bags bad
Actually, all of these materials have their proponents but paper carrier bags are generally seen as being the most environmentally friendly. Paper is easy for recyclers to identify and therefore to recycle or incinerate. Assuming the other points in this article are implemented paper decomposes easily without causing much harm to the environment.
2) Where is the material from?
Paper should always come from a sustainable source, which usually means from a managed forest in which every tree used is replaced. Sustainable paper from a managed forest is usually accredited with an FSC or PEFC mark but there are many other certifications too.
3) Recycled does not equal environmentally friendly
The trick here is to work out what has been recycled. If it's recycled paper, but what's been recycled is off-cuts from the paper mills, and those off-cuts are not from managed forests, that's not particularly environmentally friendly, particularly if you consider that it's been through two manufacturing cycles using water, chemicals and energy. So, always check the original source of the paper and ask for certifications.
4) Avoid laminations
Lamination, a thin layer of film (gloss or matt) on the paper, makes the paper stronger but harder to recycle or degrade. Bio-degradable lamination is available, but it will probably still be rejected at the recycling mill since it looks the same as normal lamination.
A sealer using water based inks produces a similar effect.
5) Choose eco friendly handles
Here we have a trade-off between luxury, comfort and the environment. Within the eco options, if you want luxury, a cotton based rope cord is better than a PP (polypropylene) handle, either way the handle would have to be removed by the user before the bag is recycled. Paper tapered handles or paper twisted handles are biodegradable and more comfortable than die cut handles which are environmentally friendly but can be uncomfortable to hold.
6) Eco friendly bag printing
Check that the factory producing your customized carrier bags is using water based inks and glues. A biodegradable bag design would have no foiling, metallic inks or spot U.V.
7) Where is the factory?
Avoid air freighting if you can. Avoid excessive packing for transport to you.
Save the environment and use brown paper carrier bags. Carrier bags in general have now become a very essential part of the retail industry. They provide an effective means for your customers to carry various products home. However in most countries gift carrier bags have become a major source of non-pollution. These items contribute to as much as 15 to 20 percent of the total trash. Safe disposal of these products has become a challenge to most governments. Paper bags can help you with this predicament.
Most of the carrier bags you will find today are made of cellophane and polythene. These materials are not bio-degradable and they need a special mode of disposal. In some third world countries the reckless use of these products is causing severe damage to the environment. Many governments have therefore imposed a ban on all carrier bags. However you need not lose hope.