Polypropylene (aka polypropene) is a thermoplastic polymer used in a wide variety of applications. It is produced via chain-growth polymerisation from the monomer propylene (aka propene).

Non-woven polypropylene bags have long been seen as the budget friendly reusable bag. Budget being the operative word. These bags are favoured by major supermarkets and environmental organisations, not just because of their low cost, but also due to their long life span. They create less litter, as they get reused, and use significantly less material resources and energy resources than paper bags, cotton bags, or single use plastic bags and do not require the huge water resources and agricultural chemicals required by cotton. On the downside, non-woven polypropylene bags are manufactured from propylene gas (also known as propene C3H6), a by-product of oil refining and are therefore made from non-renewable resources.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines ‘biodegradable’ as meaning something that is “able to decay naturally and in a way that is not harmful”. Other definitions often say that something is biodegradable if it can be broken down by microorganisms relatively rapidly (usually within a year). Polypropylene takes about 20-30 years to degrade, and will release toxins in the process, so it can’t be described as biodegradable.

Since all plastics contain harmful toxins that will leach into the soil when broken down, it could be argued that no plastic is really biodegradable. Some plastics are labelled as biodegradable since they break down more quickly, but this doesn’t mean they are safe for the environment.

Also, biodegradable plastics aren’t always as biodegradable as they’re made out to be. Sometimes these plastics will only degrade quickly in temperatures above 50°C, so they won’t break down in the earth or the ocean.

Everyday there is a massive net gain of synthetic non-biodegradable plastic waste. Recycling of the used plastic bags are a way to minimise the pollution but recycling is deemed to be less efficient and creates a huge CO2 footprint. Biodegradable plastic bags have been invented to overcome this issue but it is also controversial as the process requires specific conditions and the rate of degradability is low. The bottom line is we need to return to using natural shopping bags.

Jute is a natural vegetable fibre which is made from the outer stem and skin of a jute plant. It is an incredibly versatile material which also makes up hessian cloth, however, it is most commonly used now for making durable items such as eco-friendly jute bags. After immersing the stems in slow running water, the non-fibrous material can be scraped off, allowing workers to pull the fibres from the jute stem. These fibres can then be weaved and turned in to jute cloth

As the bags are made from natural materials, at the end of its life (and everything has an end of life!) it can easily biodegrade. Below is a comparison of polypropylene and jute:-

Production of polypropylene fibre requires 10 to 20 times more energy than jute fibre.
Production of 1 ton of polypropylene produces 3.7-7.5 tons of CO2 whereas jute production has a negative impact on CO2 production.
Jute is a totally renewable resource whereas polypropylene is derived from non-renewable resources.
Jute fibre is biodegradable whereas polypropylene is not biodegradable and causes environmental accumulation of plastic and releases cancer causing compounds

Take environmentally friendly to another level, use jute.

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