Among America’s unforgiving recycling elite, no bag is more universally revered than the almighty canvas tote bag.
Once a demonized member of the bag community, the canvas tote has risen to prominence in recent years as a socially conscious sustainable alternative to plastic. Wherever you go, you’re bound to be circled by aggressive tote bag pushers, who offer the tote as a “complimentary gift” in exchange for your charitable contribution or participation in some boring-ass event.
Alone, tote bags are benign. Together, they’re a malevolent force of nature. Overstocked American kitchen cabinets are struggling to breathe, suffocating under the weight of their tote bag mountain.
When will our romance end?
It’s easy to understand why we fell so hopelessly in love. There’s nothing more romantic than the American tote bag — washable, reusable, foldable, and very often font-conscious. And while stereotyping is bad, stereotyping about people who use tote bags has proven to be historically accurate, according to a recent study I conducted in my brain at Barnes & Noble.
For years, we’ve all lived under the same exhausted bag paradigm. The tote bag is considered to be far sexier than its inherently wasteful, bad boy plastic alternative. The story is in the data. Americans use 100 billion plastic bags a year, which requires 12 million barrels of oil to produce. Only 1 percent of plastic bags are returned for recycling (to be honest, I didn’t even know that was possible). Plastic bags are destroying our rivers, our oceans and this fugly tree outside my living room window.
But who’s to say tote bags are that much better? Study after study has come to the same grating conclusion. Tote bags are being over, not under, produced in America. Many of us have more tote bags than we could ever dream of, and we’re not using them particularly efficiently. Take a look at your own collection. How long have you used the same tote bags for? Are you really using them all? How much is pure tote bag waste?
Whatever you think about plastic bags, they’re actually leaving less of a carbon footprint than totes, at least when it comes to manufacturing. The production of canvas totes generates 131 times as many emissions of plastic bags. In order to be just as effective as plastic bags, that means you’d have to use your tote bag at least 131 times.
That’s obscene. I don’t think I’ve even left my house 131 times this year.
Anyways, enough book learnin’. What makes tote bags so devastatingly cruel to our home environments is how much space they take up in our vulnerable storage spaces. Tell me you don’t have a tote bag full of other totes. Maybe you have a closet full of nothing but totes, or maybe just a cabinet stuffed to the gills.
Don’t get me wrong — I love a good classic NPR or New Yorker tote, something that screams “I’m educated and pleasant.”
I don’t know the exact date the nonprofit machine started giving out complimentary totes for charitable donations, but it wasn’t always this way. Back in the carefree pre-recycling era, we used to get free mugs, free calendars, free T-shirts.
The good ol’ days are gone, baby, and I’ll do anything to get them back.
For nonprofits and corporations seeking to diversify their complimentary goodies, might I recommend eschewing totes and considering these undervalued potentially branded items:
Nice dried meats
Cheese puff barrels
We don’t heave to live in fear of our tote bag landfills anymore. It’s time to cut off the supply. Once we’ve liberated ourselves from tote bag welfare state, we can learn how to tote like the responsible good citizens we believe ourselves to be.
It’s toteally within reach.