How to Recycle Tote Bags

Lightweight, practical, reusable, stylish and quite often free, we all love a tote! The dilemma happens when your totes pile up; perhaps your totes have ended up in a bottomless bag of bags, or they just aren't getting the use they should.

The important thing is that you should never put these totes straight in the general waste bin. Dependent on the type of materials and processes used, you should be able to recycle or repurpose your tote instead. 

Take to a Recycling Centre or Textile Bank

Take your old totes to a recycling centre or textile banks - just make sure it accepts the materials yours is made from.

The one hurdle is that lots of totes are covered in PVC-based logos and dyes that cannot be recycled. In fact, a report by the New York Times suggested that an estimated 10 to 15% of materials received cannot be recycled. And although a 15% waste is better than 100%, it is best to purchase totes that are made from recycled materials and water-based inks (100% biodegradable pigment into a water base) to begin with. 

Reuse the Reusable 

One study found that you’d have to reuse a cotton tote 327 times to achieve the same carbon-usage ratio as using a paper bag seven times, or a plastic bag used twice. The take from this should be that reusable totes are still better for the environment than plastic, but you should use them for years on end. The exception to this is biodegradable totes made from recycled materials, which help combat plastic waste (canvas totes made from a blend of recycled and organic cotton can reduce water use by up to 70-80%, for example). However, these are still designed for a lifetime of use - so make every effort to use them. 

 "Reusables are the way forward, so long as they are reused over and over again. [...] Reuse is far superior to single-use, but reusables like cotton tote bags are only effective when they’re built to last and reused over and over again for long periods of time." Nina Schrank, Senior Plastics Campaigner at Greenpeace UK.


Don't Forget Your Tote! 

We've all been there: you get to the end of a large food shop, and you realise that you've left your bags behind (and end up having to get a plastic one). Do whatever it takes to remember to bring your reusable totes to the shop: leave them in your car, hanging on the front door or tie them to your purse - whatever works for you.

Remember that totes can be used for your food shop, but they also make a great companion for almost all occasions (gym, picnic, trip to the post office, school and so on) and can hold a lot more items than you might think

Keep Them Clean

You can't use the excuse that your tote is too dirty to take out of the house as totes can be washed, hooray! Put in the machine on a 40° wash with similar colours, making sure you've removed all of your items and cleared out all interior and exterior dust and debris beforehand. 

Repurpose or Donate

If you treat your reusable tote as disposable, that defeats the point of the tote altogether. If you don't want to reuse or recycle, you should repurpose or donate your totes instead. You could: 

Think Out Of The Box 

And you can get real creative when repurposing your tote

...and so on and so forth. Turn to the internet and YouTube for ideas.

If you're really tired of your tote, you can personalise it to your style without needing to buy a new one; add patches, badges, tie-dye and paints or draw on your tote to give it a brand new look. 


We are Tom's Totes. Our mission is to make plastic bags completely out of fashion, and to make sustainable lifestyle choices stylish. Support independent artists and join our mission to ditch plastic with our collection of biodegradable tote bagsprints and paint kits online. For more top tote tips, check out our blog and news page