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Published on March 30th, 2008 | by Stephanie Evans


Luggage with an Eco Conscience

For the eco-conscious traveler, choosing green luggage saves pollutants from entering the air and environment.

It also supports merchants and producers who use organic fabrics, sell locally, believe in fair trade, and don’t utilize sweatshops or child labor.

Eco-friendly Luggage

Luggage—An Environmental Weight On Our Shoulders

The standard suitcase, which most of have lying in our closets, probably does an adequate job of holding all of our clothes and toiletries when we travel.  As it sits there, it doesn’t pose much of a hazard to our environment.  However, that piece of luggage has a story…

When it was created, manufacturers probably used two common, and toxic, chemicals: chromium and polyvinyl chloride (PVC).  These chemicals help give suitcases durability to withstand all of the flight-induced bumping and bruising.  As these chemicals were helping to make that suitcase strong, they also offgassed their toxins, polluting the air.

  • Chromium is a carcinogen, but it is only toxic when inhaled.
  • PVC is known to cause cancer.

As the suitcase ages and flies its last trip, it will be thrown out, ending up in a landfill where it will sit for years, waiting to biodegrade; if it’s plastic, it’ll wait forever.

Luckily, the next suitcase you purchase can have a better impact on the environment.  Whether you choose to buy a canvas, hemp, nylon, cotton, or leather suitcase, these green luggage options are non-toxic and are either recyclable or biodegradable.

Alternative Options

Hip To Be Hemp

Hemp is the favorite fabric choice for many ultra greens because of it’s the awe-inspiring qualities.  Fine fawn hemp is unbleached, keeping it soft.  Herringbone hemp is thicker and stronger.  The natural durability of hemp makes it an excellent, green choice for constructing bags and suitcases.

Hemp can also be combined with cotton to create a stronger, blended fabric that is even more durable.  Hemp/cotton duffle bags, suitcases, wallets, and other travel accessories are widely available online and in natural stores.

Cotton Collection

If hemp isn’t your taste, luggage made with organic cotton fabric is a wonderful alternative.  Cotton suitcases are great because cotton is natural and biodegradable.  Unfortunately, not all cotton is the same…  According to the U. S. Department of Agriculture, cotton is treated with, on average, four pounds of pesticides per acre.  Cotton is one of the main crops sprayed with insecticides and herbicides, which, according to the World Health Organization, can cause immune-system disorders and cancer.

If you’re buying a cotton bag or suitcase, choose those made with organic cotton.  If you compare pesticide-treated cotton to organic cotton, you’ll find organic cotton to be softer, fluffier, and smoother because it hasn’t been damaged by harsh pesticides.   In some cases, EKO certification is available, which ensures that 95% of ingredients have been inspected for compliance with organic farming standards.

While cotton is a durable fabric, it is definitely not waterproof.
To waterproof suitcases, chromium and formaldehyde (carcinogens) are used, which can offgas toxins that can cause lung irritation and trigger asthma attacks, according to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Fortunately, there are green waterproofing methods.  Non-toxic water repellent coatings are water based and don’t make use of unhealthy chemicals.  Since they’re water based, they will also allow the cotton to biodegrade, so fewer bags sit in our landfills.

What You Need To Know About Nylon

Many suitcases are made from nylon, a synthetic substitute for silk.  Since nylon is synthetic, it should only be chosen under these conditions:

  • It’s waterproofed using a non-toxic water repellent.
  • It’s made from recycled nylon or it will be recycled after use.  Nylon, when thrown in with the rest of the garbage, sits in landfills for 30-40 years before it begins to biodegrade.  Fortunately, nylon can be recycled, so be sure to take it to a recycling center when you’re done with it.

A Greener Shade Of Leather

If you desire a suitcase reminiscent of a time when traveling was conducted suede-style, clothes were piled into trunks, and briefcases were as popular as messenger bags are today, your suitcase material of choice may be leather.  Leather, not forgetting where it comes from, is still considered to be a highly durable material.  If leather is what you’re looking for, green methods for tanning and production exist.

  • Vegetable oils can be used to tan leather, which helps to avoid the use of chemicals.
  • Recycled leather bags, made from discarded and/or used pieces of leather, help keep unwanted leather out of our landfills, as well as the need to produce more leather.
  • Not just suitcases, but recycled leather wallets, bags, and luggage tags are available on the market.

Recycled Bags

Leather isn’t the only recycled material being used to create luggage.  Bags and wallets are being created using discarded gum and candy wrappers, rice bags, bicycle inner tubes, cans, license plates, and other materials, creating unique and often one-of-a-kind accessories that will make your bag stand out from the parade of black bags on the airport carousel.

Luggage With A Conscience

When buying green luggage, don’t forget to consider how the luggage is made.  Manufacturers who use sweatshops and child labor should be avoided.  Look for companies that use fair trade practices—companies that usually advertise this fact.

If you’re looking for something handmade, artisans from Africa, South America, or Asia are creating wonderful woven bags that are being sold in the United States.  Money from the sale of these bags helps support artists and fair trade.  Local artists should be sought out as well—bags by these artists can be typically found at craft fairs and boutiques.

Lastly, don’t forget to consider borrowing luggage, buying used luggage, or using what you already have.  Odds are you have a friend who owns luggage and wouldn’t mind letting you borrow a suitcase or two for a weekend.  Used luggage can be found at thrift stores and many of the proceeds go to charities.  Also, those canvas grocery bags hanging in your kitchen are great for holding carry-on items.  Luggage can really be anything that gets your stuff from point A to point B, so think outside the suitcase!

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