Shades of Green is a concept I encounter everyday, working at a green company and attempting to live as green a life as I can. A few months ago, I expressed my opinion that all green attempts, whether it be products, services or practices should be applauded and welcomed into the world of green – after, of course, a thorough green-analysis. I still find myself navigating the blurred lines of what is green or what is greenER. Customers ask me “Which is greener – recycled canvas or organic canvas?” and I usually respond, ‘Well, it really is a matter of opinion. Recycled canvas is reclaiming material that would normally be headed toward the landfill as it is no longer considered “useful” but does involve the use of additional energy in reprocessing. Organic cotton canvas is a virgin material that is being grown in a sustainable method.” They are close cousins of one another but represent different green values – Reuse vs. Purity. I consider both of these options to be at the Greenest end of the reusable bag spectrum because they are grown in a pure, sustainable method, have a long useful life and will release a minimal amount of harmful toxins upon their eventual biodegrading.

Some people consider the Reusability aspect of a bag to be green enough in itself. A quality reusable bag can keep thousands of plastic bags from being created and dying a slow, toxic death in our landfills. These people may choose less expensive fabric options for their reusable bags, such as nylon or non-woven polypropylene, hoping to eliminate the use of plastic bags but possibly not considering the birth and death of the reusable bag itself.

If you were to run into me at a farmers’ market or grocery store, you would catch me using my trusty nylon bags. I would then struggle to explain why I carry these when there are greener options available. The simple answer is: I bought them when I didn’t know any better! I thought that reusability was all that mattered and didn’t give much thought to the environmental impact of the fabric itself. Plus, it’d be against my green values to just toss these bags now when they’ve still got plenty of uses left!

What I’m trying to say is that while the price and snazzy colors of the 99 cent bag at your local Megamart make it a tempting option, take a moment to think further about what that bag is made of, how it is produced and what will happen to it when it eventually sees its last use. For some of us, these bags are the best current option. For others, they’re a step in the right direction and the first stop on the train to Greentown. All Aboard!