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A tote bag is a large and often unfastened bag with parallel handles that emerge from the sides of its pouch. They are often used as reusable shopping bags.
The archetypal tote 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.
The examples and perspective in this section deal primarily with the United States and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (April 2015) (Learn how and when to remove this template message)
The term tote or tate, meaning "to carry", can be traced back to the 17th century but was not used to describe bags until 1900. However, the tote bag craze in the United States began in the 1940s with the release of L.L. Bean's Boat Bag in 1944. Because they were easier than carrying luggage, most people opted for using tote bags. During the 1950s, tote bags began to enter into the main culture. Women primarily utilized them as practical handheld bags because they didn't require much care. It wasn't until the 1960s when the tote bag embraced personal style. Bonnie Cashin released her own line of tote bags called Cashin Carry Tote Bags which combined style and functionality. In the 1990s, Kate Spade ultimately transformed how American culture embraced tote bags when she began carrying them as fashion bags. Today, fashion lovers and consumers can find tote bags in a variety of decorations and themes.
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 327 times before they can match the carbon expenditure of a single disposable plastic bag. Meanwhile, tote bags made from recycled polypropylene plastic require 26 reuses to match.
A 2014 study of U.S. consumers found that the 28% of respondents who own of reusable bags forgot them on approximately 40% of their grocery trips and used them only about 15 times each before being discarded. 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; Meyhoff Fry, Jonna (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.