Are cloth bags biodegradable? (7 benefits of recycling cloth bags) 

This article will explain the biodegradability aspect of clot bags. Other covered topics would include:

  • Are cloth bags biodegradable?
  • Can you compost cloth bags?
  • Can you recycle cloth bags?
  • Why should you be sustainable with cloth bag use and disposal?
  • FAQs

Are cloth bags biodegradable?

Cloth bags are biodegradable because cloth bags are made from natural, plant-based materials. Mostly, cloth bags are made from cotton.  The degradation time of cloth bags may vary. Usually, they may require 1-5 months to degrade. 

As cloth bags are made from natural material (plant-based), it is possible to compost them which may be used as a natural fertiliser that can improve soil fertility and replace artificial fertiliser. 

Cloth bags can also be reused and recycled. It is best to reuse cloth bags and then recycling may be considered because it is much better than simply throwing away used bags. 

What is the biodegradability status of cloth bags?

Cloth bags are made from plant-based materials. The most common material for cloth bags is cotton which is a 100% natural product. 

Biodegradability is the breakdown of waste into simpler materials so that it can become part of nature again. Natural materials are easily biodegradable because microbes can degrade such material due to the presence of nutritional content. 

Therefore, cloth bags are regarded as biodegradable as long as they are made from natural fibres. If cloth bags are made from synthetic fibres, then cloth bags will not be considered biodegradable. However, this is not the case mostly. 

Biodegradability may be explained as a process in which microbes play their part and convert waste into simpler substances. These simpler substances then become a part of nature again. 

The process of biodegradability is important because it ensures that there is no waste accumulation and waste generation. Otherwise, there can be unsolvable pollution and environmental degradation. 

When it comes to biodegradability, there are usually two trends. One is that the waste generated is non-biodegradable. Such waste is often made from the derivatives of fossil fuels and has no such nutritional content for the microbes. 

Another trend is that the waste produced is biodegradable. Such waste is mostly made from natural materials such as it may be plant-based or animal-based. 

This waste will have nutritional content that the microbes can depend on and that is why, such waste will degrade readily. To put this into perspective, biodegradable waste may degrade in some months, whereas, non-biodegradable waste may require more than a thousand years to degrade. 

As it may be guessed, it is in the very interest of scientists, consumers, and environmentalists that there may be more biodegradable waste as compared to non-biodegradable waste. 

How important is the biodegradability of cloth bags?

The current waste generation stands at 2 billion tons. It is expected to rise to more than 3 billion tons. 

This translates into the fact that an average person in the world is responsible for making more than 4-5 kgs of waste per day. 

This puts a lot of burden on the waste management systems and has often resulted in the failure of management systems. In that case, the impacts are direct on the environment and the people. 

With the waste problem at hand, it is imperative that there should be more biodegradable waste because in that case, more than half of the job will be done by the microbes. 

If there is more non-biodegradable waste, then it would practically take an infinite infinity to deal with such waste. The main reason is that by the time non-biodegradable waste is decomposed, hundreds of tons of more waste will have been added to the waste stream. 

Since cloth bags are a biodegradable waste, made from natural fibres, it is plausible to say that cloth bags do play its part in the mitigation of the waste problem that has been eminent since the spike in urbanisation, consumerism, and commercialisation. 

What are some eco-friendly ways to discard cloth bags?

Let us discuss some eco-friendly ways to discard cloth bags. This is because it is necessary to ensure that cloth bags do not cause any environmental anomaly after disposal. 

Composting

Composting can be defined as the process of making compost from biodegradable waste. The result of composting is compost which may be defined as dead organic matter. Compost may be used as a natural fertiliser that may be a source to improve and augment the organic content of the soil. 

The biggest advantage or benefit of composting is that it can be used as a natural fertiliser. Since there is a high organic content in compost, it may offer the following advantages: 

  • Increase in the water retention ability of the soil 
  • Promotion of plant and crops growth 
  • Economical benefits 
  • Conservation of water
  • Increase in organic content of the soil
  • Improvement in soil fertility

This natural fertiliser can replace synthetic fertilisers. Synthetic fertilisers that are made from chemicals are known to cause a number of detrimental impacts on the environment, economy, and people. 

The chemicals used in synthetic fertilisers seep into the ground. Ultimately, there will be impacts on the soil flora and fauna. The results will also be reciprocated in the aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, compost offers a sustainable solution to these problems and a good way to deal with biodegradable waste. 

Although composting offers a number of advantages and benefits to the people and the planet, it is not that simple of a process. 

It is a highly selective process because substances that can be composted need to be eco-friendly. In many ways, the selectivity index (being high) is justified because if compost is harmful then it will cause more harm than good. 

There are some conditions that are necessary if you need to compost any material. These are: 

  • The product must be made from natural materials
  • The product must be biodegradable
  • The product must have organic content
  • The product must be non-toxic
  • The product must not degrade into harmful fumes or materials (as plastics degrade into microplastics) 

Based on these conditions, it can be stanced that cloth bags can be composted. Cloth bags are made from plant-based material. Therefore, it is both natural and biodegradable and will also have organic content.

However, you need to ensure that cloth bags are made from natural fibres (cotton) which is the case mostly. If your cloth bag is made from non-natural fibres then it should not be composted.

How is it done?

The following steps may be taken to compost cloth bags: 

  • Add cloth bags with other compostable waste
  • Choose a apt location 
  • Selection of compost bins 
  • Add alternate layers of brown and green matter
  • Let the material compost for some months
  • Extract the compost and use it as a natural fertiliser 

 Recycling & how to? (7 benefits) 

As regards the question, yes it is possible to recycle cloth bags. Cloth bags are made from natural, non-toxic materials and there would not be any complications when cloth bags are processed in the recycling facilities. 

Recycling may be done disposing in recycling bins or locating the nearby recycling centres and transporting them there. 

You may wonder why recycling is important. As regards this question, can be answered in the following points

  • Recycling cloth bags leads to better waste management 
  • Recycling cloth bags leads to better resource management 
  • Recycling cloth bags leads to improved employment opportunities
  • Recycling cloth bags leads to decreased use of resources
  • Recycling cloth bags leads to decreased GHG emissions and the greenhouse effect
  • Recycling cloth bags leads to economic benefits for the consumers and the producers

When cloth bags are recycled, they are not needed to be made from scratch. This means that the source is not given any unnecessary burden. 

Cloth bags are made from plant-based materials such as cotton or linen. When cloth bags will be recycled then there would not be any burden on cotton production.

This will increase the possibility of decreased use of agrochemicals such as fertilisers or pesticides. 

Also, when cloth bags are recycled, half of the production processes would already have been done. This means that there will be decreased energy consumption. And because energy is mostly taken from fossil fuels, it would also mean that by recycling cloth bags, there will be a decrease in GHG emissions. 

This may mitigate the exacerbated environmental conditions and anomalies such as global warming, deforestation, and unprecedented weather patterns. 

However, you need to know where and how you can recycle cloth bags to reap these given benefits. 

Cloth bags may be recycled by either disposing of them in recycling bins or by transporting them to the nearest recycling centres. You may also contact the recycling centres via phone or email and request a pick-up. That way, you would not need to go beyond limits to get your cloth bags recycled. 

Why should you be sustainable with cloth bag use and disposal?

As preached by the information deficit model, people will not engage in pro-environmental behaviour as long as they are unaware of what differences their actions will cause. 

This section is dedicated to that. Cloth bags are made from cotton. Cotton is a plant-based material. This is also asserted because the environmental benefits of cloth bags can only be cashed when cloth bags are properly used. 

It is estimated that cotton bags need to be used around 131 times before their environmental deficit may be balanced. Therefore, the reuse mindset is very important. If like plastic bags, cotton bags are also used one-time, there will be far more damage to the environment. 

Also, when cloth bags are properly recycled or composted or reused, the stress on the raw materials will be decreased. 

This will lessen the inclination to use agrochemicals to meet production demands. Agrochemicals are known to cause a lot of negative damage to life and the environment. 

Also, one matter that needs to be discussed is that when raw materials are stressed less, there will be less cutting of trees.

Trees are very important for our survival and thriving. When trees are there, there is the absorption of carbon dioxide and the provision of oxygen. This is called atmospheric cleansing because oxygen is very important for our survival. 

Also, carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. When there is more carbon dioxide, there will be fervent implications for it. The result will be an increase in the overall global temperature. This is called global warming. 

Conclusion 

It is concluded that cloth bags are biodegradable because cloth bags are made from natural, plant-based materials. Mostly, cloth bags are made from cotton.  The degradation time of cloth bags may vary. Usually, they may require 1-5 months to degrade. 

As cloth bags are made from natural material (plant-based), it is possible to compost them which may be used as a natural fertiliser that can improve soil fertility and replace artificial fertiliser. 

Cloth bags can also be reused and recycled. It is best to reuse cloth bags and then recycling may be considered because it is much better than simply throwing away used bags. 

Frequently Asked Questions: Are cloth bags biodegradable?

What is the degradation time of cloth bags?

The degradation time of cloth bags is 1-5 months. 

What is the most common material for cloth bags?

Cotton is the most common material for cloth bags. 

References 

  • Bateman, N. (2004). From bags to riches: Blackwell Hall and the wool cloth trade, c. 1450–1790. Post-Medieval Archaeology, 38(1), 1-15.
  • de Bertoldi, M. D., Vallini, G. E., & Pera, A. (1983). The biology of composting: a review. Waste Management & Research, 1(2), 157-176.
  • Tejada, M., Dobao, M. M., Benitez, C., & Gonzalez, J. L. (2001). Study of composting of cotton residues. Bioresource Technology, 79(2), 199-202.
  • Halimi, M. T., Hassen, M. B., & Sakli, F. (2008). Cotton waste recycling: Quantitative and qualitative assessment. Resources, Conservation and Recycling, 52(5), 785-791.
  • Steel, K. P. (1999). The benefits of recycling. Science, 285(5432), 1363-1364.
  • Cho, Renee. (April 30, 2020). Plastic, Paper or Cotton: Which Shopping Bag is Best? Retrieved from: https://news.climate.columbia.edu/2020/04/30/plastic-paper-cotton-bags/

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