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Bags for life – a more sustainable answer

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Author: Aimee Campanella, Posted: Tuesday, 24th November 2015, 08:00

Textile recyclers across the UK process thousands of kilograms of non-woven/cotton shopping bags (‘bags for life’) each month. These are bags that are meant to stay with us for life and instead are being exported for reuse or recycling abroad due to the low demand for second hand reusable shopping bags in the UK.

With supermarkets now charging 5p for carrier bags, there is hope that this number will decline as more of us take our ‘bags for life’ to help us with our weekly shop, and reduce the additional miles these items travel if they end up in a recycling box.

Most reusable shopping bags are manufactured in countries such as Bangladesh or China and may travel up to 7000 miles to be used by us in the UK. When these and other textiles are then received by a textile recycler, an average of 89% of the used textiles will travel as far as Central Africa or South Asia, adding another 5000-6000 miles onto its journey.

Although many people try to make a habit of taking a ‘bag for life’ with them during their weekly shop, it’s easy to forget. How often have you found yourself in the supermarket having once again forgotten your bag at home and having to buy a new one at the checkout? Since the 5p per carrier bag charge was implemented in early October, it’s worth starting a new habit of ensuring you have a bag ready to go in your car or by your front door.

T-shirt to tote bag
If you do not currently have a ‘bag for life’ to take on your upcoming weekly shop, do not fret. Rather than buying a new bag at the checkout you can make one at home before you go out. All you need is an old t-shirt, a pair of scissors and about ten minutes.

1. Find any old t-shirt, flip it inside out.
2. Remove the neckline, cutting in around 3-4cm. This will be the bag opening.
3. Remove both sleeves, cutting in around 3-4cm. These will be your straps.
4. Along the bottom of the t-shirt, cut strips that are 5-6cm long and 2cm wide. Save time and cut both sides of the t-shirt at the same time.
5. Take two of the strips cut along the bottom, double knot and repeat until each strip has been tied to another strip, sealing the bottom of the t-shirt which will be the bottom of the bag.
6. Take the edge of the fabric along the neckline and sleeves and pull slightly to smooth out any rough cutting. Flip outside in and your bag is ready to go!

A British fashion designer has recently developed a handmade t-shirt backed with a 30-year guarantee. At only £25 each, the t-shirts are ethically made in Portugal using organic cotton. The guarantee even covers returning the shirt if it rips, tears or needs any repair. This is the future of sustainable fashion.

If we changed the way the UK supplies, uses and disposes of clothing, we could reduce the carbon, water and waste footprints of clothing consumption by 10-20% each. This could cut around £3 billion per year from the cost of the resources we use to make and clean clothes.

Retailers must make clothing that is built to last
Although making a shopping bag from an old worn out t-shirt is a great solution to keeping more textiles for reuse and recycling in the UK, fashion still needs to slow down and retailers need to start thinking about making clothing ethically that is built to last.

So instead of reaching for the usual 3 pack of t-shirts that fade and lose their shape after a few washes as this year’s stocking stuffer, consider going for gifts that are made in the UK or even better, making your own.

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