The Sustainable Bag: A Comprehensive Guide

What constitutes a sustainable bag? A product must meet the needs without jeopardizing the future needs to be considered sustainable. In principle, the core value of sustainability is getting things done without diminishing resources completely.

Put together by the team at Terra Thread, producers of sustainable backpacks and bags.


Climate change and its environmental consequences are a central concern flooding the headlines. The rate of global temperature has risen more than twice since 1981. The year 2020 is recorded as the second-warmest year after 2016. The sea level has risen by around 4 inches since 1993. The US coastlines are predicted to see a 10 to 12 inches rise on average above by 2050. All of these numbers reflect a rapidly warming planet which poses a significant threat to long-term sustainability. 

Environmental concerns are growing with climate change now playing a pivotal role in pushing the countdown closer to reality. If the world received any revelation from the recent pandemic outburst, it is that the eco-social stability & justice and sustainable development are not mutually exclusive. They must function together, and no matter how small or big the action is, it can make a significant difference. 

Human activities that contribute to global warming are unsustainable, as they compromise the ecosystems we rely on for existence. Addressing climate change with long-term solutions is the only way to avoid environmental disasters and ensure a more fruitful, resourceful, and sustainable future. One way to support a sustainable future for all is by how we shop.

The clothing industry, a prime contributor to climate change, is also starting to do its part by investing in sustainable clothing production. 

What is Sustainable Fashion? 

Sustainable fashion is a broad term, frequently encompassing a broader socioeconomic perspective. Fashion brands can contribute to sustainable fashion by following best environmental practices, improved working conditions, transparent supply chain, & more – viable measures aimed to undo existing damage and avoid ecological catastrophes. Sustainable products, in general, are manufactured in innovative ways to help protect the environment and to facilitate creating a better world for future generations. 

What Makes a Bag Sustainable?

Sustainable bags are eco-friendly creations, crafted to have a minimal footprint on the environment. Made from natural fibers like organic cotton. 

man wearing white carrying a grey Terra Thread sustainable bag
duffel bag from Terra Thread is made of organic cotton

The design and development of sustainable bags take its environmental impact into account— how much waste are these products producing? Is there a significant amount of greenhouse gas entering the atmosphere? Is the product biodegradable as it decomposes, or does it cause environmental damage? 

Can Sustainable Bags Make A Difference? 

Shifts and transformations define the fashion industry. We’ve seen it time and time again. However, there are implications when an integrated model is constructed on transition. 

Fast fashion and the norm of excessive consumption have emerged as a result of large-scale manufacturing and cheap labor. While fashion has become exponentially more attainable, it has also become significantly more dangerous for the planet. The fashion industry emits 1.2 billion tonnes of CO2, significant to 342 million barrels of oil every year. 

The industry is based on unethical practices that endanger both humans and the environment. Fortunately, a mass paradigm has emerged in the last ten years— slow fashion is catching up in the fight against fast fashion. 

Conscious consumers are voting with their dollars– using their purchasing power to protest unethical and unsustainable practices. Sustainable fashion is rippling through the industry, and companies and brands of all sizes are starting to notice and make changes.

So, in the face of climate change and changing consumer demands, what is the contribution of sustainable bags? Let’s find out. 

Environmental Aspects of Fashion

Pollution

The fashion industry is well-known for its pollution, and with good reason. Pollution occurs almost throughout the supply chain points, from the raw materials to the mass transit of final products. Fashion’s highest used fiber, conventionally grown cotton, uses 16% of the world’s toxic insecticides and 6% of pesticides. It is contaminating the oceans and drinking water supplies with toxic chemicals that are potentially fatal to humans. Textile dyeing and treatment account for about 20% of global water pollution. Virgin polyester, with every wash destroys marine life and impacts the seafood we consume.

On the other hand, sustainable products minimize the ecological footprints by preventing waste from being generated in the first place. In addition to soil and water pollution, pesticides used in agriculture are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions which must be controlled, if not eliminated. Research reveals that organic cotton has the potential to lower total global warming by 46% more than conventional cotton. 

organic cotton plant up close
Certified organic cotton is grown WITHOUT GMOs and synthetic pesticides or insecticides.

Green items are sustainably designed and produced for long life, along with end-of-lifecycle solutions. It helps prevent pollution by using fewer resources and pushing hazardous pesticides and chemicals away from production.

Waste Generation

Fast fashion is wasteful- clothing items in stores (or online) change weekly and are of poor quality. As compared to the year 2000, today an average consumer buys 60% more clothing items but discards them twice as quickly. Think of all the unnecessary and avoidable waste! US landfills are overburdened with around 13 million tonnes of textile waste every year. The global recycling rate of clothing materials floats at a mere 12 percent. Landfilled synthetic fabric lays there for about 200 years, spilling dangerous substances and dyes into our soils and water. 

Meanwhile, sustainable production encourages conscious purchase instead of destructive shopping sprees— considering what is truly essential and how long they will last. It stimulates the brands to produce clothing responsibly, including using natural materials and safe fabric dyes, fair wages, quality over quantity, and choosing designs that generate less fabric waste. 

The principles of recycling, repurposing, reusing, and reselling deprives the never-ending cycle of high-volume production, resulting in clothing items that last. This helps in preventing the item from going to waste and reducing the demand for new clothes, eventually impacting the production of fast fashion clothing. 

Water Usage

Global freshwater resources are depleting at an astonishing rate and the fashion industry’s heavy reliance on water is not helping. Fashion is a thirsty business— from crop irrigation and supply chain points to washing the clothes at home. The practice of massively producing items in a fast and inexpensively manner contributes to the increasing list of negative consequences- one of them being major water usage. The fashion industry is the second highest water consumer, using around 1.5 trillion gallons of water each year, enough to satisfy the thirst of 110 million people

Sustainable alternatives can help the environment and the people who make the clothes or the bags. Organic cotton production has been shown to have a 98% lower water pollution impact and uses 91% less water than conventional cotton. 

Now let us look at social issues which have been paid little attention:

Social Aspects of Fashion

Poor Pay

The global garment industry employs approximately 75 million people, making it a vital source of income for millions. Sadly, there is a significant pay gap between the top and bottom of the industry— the CEOs are getting wealthier, and the people who make our clothes are getting poorer. Countries with large garment manufacturing industries have minimum wages that are less than half of the living wage, with the majority of them living on less than $3 per day.

Inhumane Working Conditions

Thousands of people have died in serious factory accidents in recent years. For example, the death of 1,132 people in the Rana Plaza incident, the Spectrum-Sweater factory incident where 64 workers were buried alive— the tragedy count only goes on. But high-fatality accidents are not the only threats against factory workers. Dehydration, chemical exposure, exhaustion from inhuman overtime, machine injuries, and respiratory ailments are all hazards that textile and apparel workers face daily.

Collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Image Source: Al Jazeera
Collapse of the Rana Plaza in Dhaka, Image Source: Al Jazeera

Forced Overtime & Workplace Harassment

Overtime working hours and sexual harassment continue to be a violation in garment factories. The workers aren’t given a choice— aside from low wages and dangerous work surroundings, garment factory workers are forced to work long hours without their consent while experiencing verbal sexual abuse and harassment. Chinese workers are forced to work 80 to 175 overtime hours (per month) during the peak production season, notwithstanding the Chinese labor law keeping the unpaid overtime per month under 36 hours.

In a survey of 658 women working in 35 Indian and Bangladeshi factories, 75% of respondents admitted to regular verbal abuse happening in their workplace. All of the unsafe factors in a monotonous job are not only hazardous to workers’ health but also harm their productivity and the overall output.

Positive Change Supported by Ethical Brands

Meantime, sustainable and ethical fashion is about reconsidering purchasing habits and about considering things behind the curtain so to speak. Eco-conscious items like sustainable bags encourage consumers to be aware and mindful of their values and support brands and businesses that are fighting the good fight.

The sustainable movement challenges brands to produce, manufacture, and market clothing and accessories in a socially and ecologically sustainable manner. It includes assessing raw materials, transparent and traceable supply chains, utilizing resources consciously, fair labor treatment, etc. The goal is to reduce negative consequences, minimize risks, and uplift lives on a global scale.  

Sustainable consumption may soon become the norm. A study reveals that 93% of Americans and Australians want to start living more sustainably. Another report demonstrates a remarkable 71% increase in sustainable goods search results over the last five years. There is a 65% increase in the volume of tweets about biodiversity and environmental loss– from 30 million to 50 million. Worldwide media coverage of environmental demonstrations accelerated by 103% in 2019, attributable to the growth of international activism. 

Many brands are now working to improve their image as consumers are more aware of their purchasing decisions. The fashion industry is undergoing a transformation, with an increasing number of businesses implementing sustainability initiatives to stimulate economic growth, environmental protection, and social welfare. Pioneering with innovative approaches and meaningful actions! 

masked woman crafted a bag in a workshop
Bags from Terra Thread are made at Fair Trade USA certified factories

A good example of a sustainable bag brand is Terra Thread. A California based company, Terra Thread, has sustainability built into its bags at every stage of their production. Their sustainable backpacks, among other products they offer, such as laptop sleeve 13 inch are:

  1. Made using fairtrade organic cotton grown by family farmers in India
  2. Manufactured at a Fair Trade Certified Factory
  3. They are GOTS certified
  4. They are carbon neutral 
  5. Every purchase gives back

Final Thoughts 

Living a sustainable lifestyle entails making significant contributions to humanity, the surroundings, and the ecosystems. Rescuing the planet is a benefit for every human to reap together. Each of us has a role to play in not just looking out for ourselves but everything and everyone that surrounds us. 

We have highlighted above why sustainable alternatives matter. Then again, these are just a few of many reasons. But fingers crossed, this can help you make more informed decisions!

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