Who has the greenest bag?




NZBagit’s key focus is nonwoven polypropylene (pp) bags.

Nonwoven describes a way of making fabric-like products and is utilised by the oil derivatives, textile, and cellulose industries. Nonwovens are an excellent use of plastic. Nonwoven pp delivers a low-cost yet pleasant feeling fabric-like material that encourages retention and re-use. If discarded, non-woven bags will rot slowly in dampness or the sun. They’ll look  better doing it and do it more quickly than a standard plastic bag - but we hope they are being made to be reused.

Nonwoven pp bags deliver a very high quality finish, they are very printable, and they are very cost-effective, though obviously not as cheap as traditional single use plastic shopping bags. The point being of course, they are made to be reused many times over.

If they’re plastic, how come they’re green?

  1. Best Use of Resources
    The oil derivatives that nonwoven pp is produced from are a natural consequence of the oil refinery process. This source material will continue to be produced irrespective of what uses are found for it. So the best possible course is to use this base stock as wisely as possible. We believe one of those uses is replacing single use plastic bags, with a genuine reusable alternative. Some base stock can also be sourced from recycling stocks - up to 8% of our bag source stock is recycled.

    “It is a myth that if plastic is eliminated it will create more available oil or gas for heating or fuel. Less than 3% of the feedstock, oil or natural gas, is used to make ALL plastics - that 3% is known as derivatives that become available during the refining process. If all plastics were banned, that would not create 3% more fuel, it would create 3% wasted material that would be burned at the refineries.”
    - Pete Grande, Command Packaging president commenting from statistics reported by the U.S. Energy Information Administration
  2. What about how it is made?
    The ecological impact of the factory? The treatment of their workers? NZBagit proudly partners with PT Multi Spunindo Jaya, located in Surabaya, Indonesia, and Greenbag Nonwoven, located in Guangzhou, China. Both manufacturers recycle all offcuts and other waste back into the manufacturing process, and both are committed to social responsibility for their workers and local areas. Both publish their environmental positions on their websites.

    Here is the web address for one of our partner companies’ Eco-policy statements:

    Compared to most alternatives, making nonwoven bags is a relatively clean process. The 2003 book, NonWoven Fabrics, states, “The nonwoven manufacturing process itself is modern and straighforward, without obnoxious air or water emissions… As a modern industry its record is at least comparable or better than the paper or textile industries... at least 50% of nonwovens waste is recycled ... and...  Waste quantities of nonwovens are not only comparitively low with regard to paper or textile waste, but the nonwoven products themselves don’t create more intrinsic problems than for paper or textiles. As such nonwoven waste can be handled safely and all waste management solutions can be applied...”
    - From “Nonwoven Fabrics” By Wilhelm Albrecht, Hilmar Fuchs, Walter Kittelmann, J. Lunenschloss Published 2003 Wiley-VCH ISBN:3527605312
  3. Acceptability in the Market
    Single use bags are the epitome of convenience. To persuade consumers to change to a reusable bag, the alternative will have to satisfy a range of expectations:
    1. Easy on the Eye - Nonwoven pp Bags are soft, yet tough and printable. A wide selection of fabric weights means they can be made sturdy, or very light. So Bag designs hold their shape, and their look and feel. They keep looking good, so people are happy to keep reusing them.
    2. Easy Care - Nonwoven pp Bags are washable. But don’t iron them!
      Easy on the Pocket - Nonwoven pp Bags are cost effective enough for most retailers to include one as part of the
    3. cost of sale – so there is no barrier to consumers acquiring them.
    4. Easy to Store - Nonwoven pp Bags can be folded easily, and are quite hard to crease. So they’re easy to keep
      tidy. Some models come with a small flap and dome, so the bag snaps together like a wallet or
      purse for transport & storage.
    5. Easy to Use - Nonwoven pp Bags are not too floppy or too stiff. So things go into them easily, and they
      always seem willing to carry one more item than you thought they could.
    6. Hard to Forget - Nonwoven pp Bags are a stylish way to get your brand out on the streets, parks and beaches
      of New Zealand –and the world.

      So. They are made using a resource that occurs anyway – so it makes sense to use it. The total cost of making them
      is generally lower than the obvious alternatives, and the combination of price and quality of finish makes them
      popular with both consumers and retailers.

A brown craft paper bag is a good choice for many retail situations, if it is appropriate for the brand. However, as such bags are generally used only once or twice before recycling, the energy used in manufacturing could arguably be put to more efficient use. And the production processes required for hi-gloss high-weight paper bags are intensive and generate their share of pollutants.
There are no New Zealand based companies manufacturing paper bags over 110 gsm – considered the lowest weight suitable for a carry bag. So, any paper carry bag will come from overseas, just like non-woven bags. We believe a non-woven pp bag is a more sustainable choice.

Bullets From Around The World:

  • It takes 13 to 17 trees to make one ton of paper bags. It has been reported that 955000 tons of paper bags were used in the United States (that's about 13 to 17 million trees).
  • It takes more than four times as much energy to manufacture a paper bag as it does to manufacture a plastic bag.
  • It takes 91 percent less energy to recycle a pound of plastic than it takes to recycle a pound of paper.
  • Paper sacks generate 70 percent more air and 50 times more water pollutants than plastic bags.
  • Plastic grocery bags generate 80% less solid waste than paper bags.
  • 2000 plastic bags weigh 30 pounds, 2000 paper bags weigh 280 pounds. Paper bags require significant more landfill space.
  • Current research demonstrates that paper in today’s landfills does not degrade or break down at a substantially faster rate than plastic.
  • Four times as much energy is required to produce paper bags and 85 times as much energy is needed to recycle them.
  • Paper takes up nine times as much space in landfills, often degrading very slowly when not exposed to oxygen
  • Compostable bags must also be segregated from regular plastic, making recycling efforts more difficult.
    Source: USA Today, Editorial, April 2, 2007

Some of the above bullet points use slightly different numbers - but the point is, paper bags are not a perfect solution, by any means.


  • Paper carriers are not hazardous to marine animals or wildlife
  • They may be compostable and can be produced either from 100 per cent recycled material or sustainable forests


  • Large amounts of energy are required to recycle and transport paper bags
  • Any exemption could prompt big retailers simply to switch from plastic to paper
  • Despite rising recycling rates, vast quantities of paper waste goes to landfills every year
  • Paper in landfills emits methane - one of the most harmful gases in terms of climate change

Source: http://business.timesonline.co.uk/tol/business/industry_sectors/industrials/article3694992.ece


Cotton is the world’s most popular fibre - but is still primarily produced by industrial farms that, while much more environmentally aware than they used to be, are still businesses, there to make a profit. In addition to using significant amounts of the world’s pesticides, over 90% of Australia’s cotton is now transgenic – i.e. it has an added gene; a low level form of genetic manipulation. Organic cotton is more effort for lower yields, and is also in high demand, so again, it’s not a cheap way to make a bag.

The textile industry’s demand for organic cotton is very high, making cheap organic cotton bags impossible. Cotton uses approximately 25% of the world's insecticides and more than 10% of the pesticides (including herbicides, insecticides, and defoliants.).
(Allan Woodburn) - Allen Woodburn Associates Ltd./Managing Resources Ltd., "Cotton: The Crop and its Agrochemicals Market," 1995.

Supply is better in the USA and Europe, but shipping costs add considerably to both cost and carbon footprint. Not just cotton but all natural fibre bags share the challenge of competing for the materials with the textile industry in general, and increasingly with the use of land for the production of more important resources. Low cost natural fibre bags are increasingly not that cheap – and given the land they use, this is an accurate reflection of their footprint.

Hemp Fibre is extremely versatile, with a huge range of finishes and applications. Far from being only a rough bag product, hemp can deliver a product with aspirational levels of softness, lustre, printability and wear. But because of its suitablility for so many usees – including haute couture and cutting edge fashion cltohing, fabric textiles for curtains, furniture, car upholstery and more – demand is very high and the material is not cheap. It is around 4 times the price of similar cotton products – but it’s also 4 times as strong, damp and insect resistant, holds its shape better, doesn’t stretch, and is far easier to grow, supplying its own natural pesticides, and enhancing the soil it grows in.

Hemp is also an extremely fast growing crop, producing more fiber yield per acre than any other source. Hemp can produce 250% more fiber than cotton and 600% more fiber than flax using the same amount of land. The amount of land needed for obtaining equal yields of fiber place hemp at an advantage over other fibers. Hemp grows best in warm tropical zones or in moderately cool, temperate climates, such as the United States. Hemp leaves the soil in excellent condition for any succeeding crop, especially when weeds may otherwise be troublesome. Where the ground permits, hemp's strong roots descend for three feet or more. The roots anchor and protect the soil from runoff, building and preserving topsoil and subsoil structures similar to those of forests. Moreover, hemp does not exhaust the soil. Hemp plants shed theirleaves all through the growing season, adding rich organic matter to the topsoil and helping it retain moisture. Farmers have reported excellent hemp growth on land that had been cultivated steadily for nearly 100 years.
Source: HempTrader.com

Durability - Hemp fibre is extremely strong and robust having twice the tensile strength of cotton. When woven, hemp fabrics will outlast the cotton equivalent by many years.

Thermal Properties - Hemp's hollow fibres provide natural thermal insulating qualities. Hemp has the best ratio of heat capacity of all natural fibres, providing natural thermal qualities.

U.V. Resistance - Hemp filters up to 95% of the suns harmful ultraviolet rays, far exceeding cotton or linen. This is vital for Australasia's ozone depleted environment.

More information:
http://www.ecofibre.com.au (The Australian hemp industry is just starting. )

Foss Manufacturing, in the United States has developed a non-woven from 100 percent recycled plastic PET bottles called Ecospun. The fiber is made into fabrics such as fleece jackets and sweatshirts, which are warm, durable, weather-resistant, lightweight and comfortable. Ecospun has the capacity to keep almost three billion plastic PET bottles out of the world's landfills each year, saving over half a million barrels of oil and eliminating 400,000 tons of harmful air emissions that contribute to global warming, acid rain and smog. However, local (U.S.A.) demand is strong, and Foss are consequently not currently motivated to servicing international orders. And pricing is at a premium to standard nonwovewn pp.

Eco-Pal is the NZ licensee for an additive for plastics, that produces products that will readily break down in household compost. There are no NZ manufacturers of carry bags to take advantage of this at this time, and the technology is in the early stages of being introduced to the market.

www.scionresearch.com formerly the New Zealand Forest Research Institute, is also working on bioplastics, but will license manufacturers rather than being a producer. Initial focus is on more substantial plastics, and no information is available on bag grade bio-plastics at this time.

Then there is a fair variety of relatively rapidly degradeable bags on the market, but they are designed for disposal of food scraps and medical waste, not retail. To the best of our knowledge no-one offers the ability to put your own retail brand on a compostable bag.




  • About 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used worldwide every year, according to Vincent Cobb, founder of reuseablebags.com. Nonwoven polypropylene bags are a practical alternative to this approach.
  • Countries that have banned or taken action to discourage the use of plastic bags include Australia, Bangladesh,
    Ireland, Italy, South Africa and Taiwan. Mumbai (formerly Bombay), India, also has banned the bags.
  • Australians were using nearly 7 billion bags a year, and nearly 1.2 billion bags a year were being passed out free in Ireland before government restrictions, according to government estimates.
  • The first plastic sandwich bags were introduced in 1957. Department stores started using plastic bags in the late 1970s and supermarket chains introduced the bags in the early 1980s.
    (Source: http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/national/182949_bags21.html)
  • For every 1bn plastic bags produced, 9,000 tonnes of plastic is used and 18,000 tonnes of CO2 produced.
  • Although carrier bags today use 70% less plastic than they did 20 years ago, most are still made from polyethylene, a kind of plastic which is non-degradable and can take up to 100 years to break down.

A Letter of Note:
Mark Price ( Mark Price is Waitrose managing director )
The Guardian, Monday March 10 2008
(This article appeared in the Guardian on Monday March 10 2008 on p33 of the Comment & debate section. It was last updated at 09:30 on March 10 2008. )

Today we are bombarded with a plethora of wisdom about how to eat and shop. We are told we should eat seasonally, shop locally, buy organically, eat sustainably, minimise food miles, avoid air-freighted produce, and support communities in the developing world. If that is not enough, we should protect rainforests, purge ourselves of packaging and spurn the plastic bag.

I firmly believe that as a retailer and a consumer I have a responsibility to protect the planet and minimise our impact on the environment. But in our pursuit of a "guilt-free" supermarket, are we fishing for sustainably sourced red herrings, rather than weighing up which of our actions will have the biggest impact on the next generation?

Waitrose is constantly under scrutiny about how many carrier bags we use and how far our food travels - certainly relevant questions. Yet I am hardly ever quizzed about the single biggest contributor to our carbon footprint: refrigeration, which accounts for 60% of our energy requirements. Refrigeration is never going to grab headlines, but we are investing £55m over five years to ensure that ours is more efficient.

Meanwhile, air-freighted produce - the bete noire of the ethical lobby - accounts for only 0.1% of greenhouse gases within the UK, according to the Department for International Development. And a study by Cranfield University suggests that products flown long distances can have a lesser impact than those cultivated closer to home: roses grown in Kenya had a carbon footprint six times smaller than roses cultivated in north Europe, because of the extra heat and lighting needed in Europe.

I am passionate about supporting British farmers and growers. Indeed, I believe that Waitrose does more than any other supermarket to support UK agriculture. But we shouldn't overlook the fact that our rose farms in Kenya support communities and provide schooling and healthcare. If we were to stop selling these roses, people would starve or be more reliant on aid.

And what about the plastic bag? I am all in favour of minimising wastage; in 1997 Waitrose was the first retailer to introduce the bag for life, and we offer bag recycling in all our branches. We are also a signatory to a national voluntary code of practice on carrier bags, working to reduce the environmental impact of the bags by 25% by the end of 2008.

But the fact is that other things such as heating our homes, driving cars or going on holiday arguably have a bigger impact on the environment. I'm told that bags represent just 0.3% of waste that goes into landfill. Sporting an Anya Hindmarch "I'm not a plastic bag" is a bit like taking an ethical placebo. We can leave well alone the ethical hornets' nests of population growth, diminishing food resources and climate change. The fact is that being truly ethical is never easy. Earlier this year, Waitrose was condemned for its decision to source tilapia fish from Zimbabwe. However, the farm provides work for up to 450 people, pays more than the minimum wage, and provides pensions, healthcare and HIV counselling. Though 60% of its products are sold in Zimbabwe, the farm has to export to make a profit and ensure its survival. It was this fact that led the community's mayor to speak out in defence of Waitrose. It would have been easy to take tilapia off our shelves to remove ourselves from the ethical firing line. But this would have been a disservice to the community.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. But I do believe that we should be looking rationally and holistically at the issues that are most pressing for our society. Information is key, as customers need to be aware that ethical purchasing decisions are usually far more complex than bite-size mantras or headlines.

Plastic in New Zealand
“It is estimated that over 189,000 tonnes of plastic is landfilled annually in New Zealand. The plastic packaging recycling rate for New Zealand is 18%, which is comparable with most European countries that are estimated to have a recovery rate of between 7% and 22%, with the exception of Germany, which has a packaging recovery rate of 52% due to a mandatory take back scheme. An improvement in the 18% achieved in New Zealand will be needed if the 50% of Councils across the country committed to Zero Waste targets are to achieve progress towards this objective. In these terms a significant opportunity exists to recover a greater quantity of plastic through improved collection and reprocessing (Plastics New Zealand, 2002 & RECOUP, 2003).

In the Wellington region it is estimated that 1,440 tonnes of plastic are diverted from landfill per annum through recycling at kerbside collections systems and drop-off sites, while a further 25,348 tonnes of plastic are landfilled.

However, due to commercial sensitivity no information is available with regards to the breakdown of the various plastic polymers collected and reprocessed across the region.”