Environmental Considerations When Making a Backpack

Environmental considerations when making a backpack might not be something everyone thinks about. But, when making just about anything there’s some kind of toll on the environment. Whether it’s from water usage, burning of fossil fuels to transport materials around, or the materials themselves being produced from chemicals. Backpacks are no exception. But, if you put in some thought into the process, you can reduce the harm being done to the environment and work towards long-term sustainability.  

Sustainability has been a focus at Pacsafe for a number of years, so we recently caught up with Executive VP of Global Product Phil Hayes to talk about environmental considerations when making a backpack. The discussion covered materials selections, reduction of plastic and much, much more.

Here’s a look at things to think about when building a more sustainable backpack…

What are the main factors you need to think about as a bag maker/designer when it comes to environmental considerations?

Our overall aim is to produce long-lasting, quality product with minimal waste and without the use of harmful substances. This also means ensuring as little plastic as possible in packaging, using recyclable or recycled materials, and adhering strictly to restricted substances lists in production. When we started on this journey over a decade ago, one of the first things we did was eliminate PVC from our bags.

Why is eliminating PVC such a key consideration?

We are living in an age of plastics. Unfortunately, it’s everywhere! Look at our oceans. One of the worst is PVC (or polyvinyl chloride). It contains chemical additives including phthalates that research has linked to asthma, learning disabilities, diabetes and other chronic health problems. We’re slowly reducing the rest of our plastic usage and being as smart as possible where we do include it. But, it’s always worth starting with the worst offenders and eliminating those first. We have been PVC free for over 10 years and proud of it.

How does durability factor in? For example, do you want something to last forever, or just a long, long time?

We only select material that provides the best performance with minimal impact, with the aim to have an extended lifetime. This keen focus on quality has led to our industry-leading, warranty-related return rate. It’s tiny, which is great. Extending the life of our product to reduce the carbon footprint is also part of our commitment to the planet.

What about other treatments to fabrics such as waterproofing?

Waterproofing is a major problem for most companies. It’s really, really hard to find one that works that doesn’t do some harm to the environment on some level. We have switched from a C8 fluorocarbon-based treatment to a shorter-chain C6 treatment. It’s also fluorocarbon-based, but with by-products that break down faster in the environment and with less potential toxicity over time to humans, wildlife and fish.

Another interesting finish we use on our washable fabrics is Polygiene. It’s Bluesign approved and allows the fabric to be worn for longer periods without washing or getting smelly. Basically wash less to save water and energy.

What are the best materials you’ve found that tread a balance between function and sustainability?

We have recently done a limited-edition range of bags with Econyl. Econyl uses regenerated nylon waste (including old fishing nets) and makes it into fabric we can then use in our bags. Proceeds of these went back to the ‘Pacsafe Turtle Fund’ – which was a great thing. Econyl is very high performance while being environmentally positive.

How does price play a role in all of this?

Price is an unfortunate part of life and right now recycled fabrics do cost more. Some of this we have been absorbing, but with very special yarns, like the Econyl story, we need to charge slightly more. Interestingly, it did not hinder sales. It’s really great to see that our customers realize the value of looking after the planet.

Are there any developments you can see on the horizon you’re excited about?

We recently made a commitment to each other that any new line we release will be made in recycled or sustainable fabrics. To that end we’re about to release a couple of new lines in regenerated Econyl and PET fabrics which are made from recycled plastic bottles. The styles are fantastic and the fact that they are made in a sustainable way enhances them even more.

Looking further afield, the circular economy is something all of us should be encouraging our companies and governments to push for. In the traditional model, resources are fed into the economy and after their lifespan, they are spat out and lost. They end up as rubbish in our oceans, or in landfill. In the new circular economy, resources are fed into the system, but the big difference is they are kept circulating through re-use, refurbish, recycle. I’m excited to see that take place more and more and be able to make products that are sustainable long, long term.

To learn more about Pacsafe’s commitment to preserving Marine Turtles and their habits, head here to read more.

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