A tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch. The word tote is probably African in origin and came into English via Gullah. Totes are often used as reusable shopping bags.
The archetypal tote bag is made of sturdy cloth, perhaps with thick leather at its handles or bottom; leather versions often have a pebbled surface. Common fabrics include heavy canvas, possibly dyed, or treated to resist moisture and mold. Jute is another traditional material, though less popular. In recent decades, heavy nylon and other easy-care synthetics have become common, although these may degrade with prolonged sun-exposure. Many of today's inexpensive or free totes are often made from recycled matter, from minimally-processed natural fibers, or from byproducts of processes that refine organic materials.
Recently, tote bags have been sold as a more eco-friendly replacement for disposable plastic bags, given they can be reused multiples times. They have also been given away as promotional items. A study by the UK Environment Agency found that cotton canvas bags have to be reused at least 131 times before they can match the carbon expenditure of a single disposable plastic bag, and up to 327 times if the plastic bags are used as bin liners. Meanwhile, tote bags made from recycled polypropylene plastic require 11 (up to 26 when considering reuse as bin liners for plastic bags) reuses to match.
A 2014 study of U.S. consumers found that the 28% of respondents who own reusable bags forgot them on approximately 40% of their grocery trips and used the bags only about 15 times each before discarding them. About half of this group typically chose to use plastic bags over reusable ones, despite owning reusable bags and recognizing their benefits. An increasing number of jurisdictions have mandated the phase-out of lightweight plastic bags to reduce land and ocean pollution. In order to provide an incentive for consumers to remember reusable bags more often these laws establish a minimum price for bags at checkout and require either paper, reusable fabric tote bags, or thick reusable plastic bags.
- Edwards, Chris; Joanna Meyhoff Fry (February 2011). "Life cycle assessment of supermarket carrier bags: a review of the bags available in 2006" (PDF). UK Environment Agency.
- "Reusable Bag Study". Edelman Berland. May 2014.
- Dillon, Noah (12 September 2016). "Are Tote Bags Really Good for the Environment?". The Atlantic.