The Environmental Impact of Nylon Bags


Nylon is a synthetic fiber with a silky texture, commonly used in outdoor gear such as sleeping bags, tents, rope. Other common uses include umbrellas, clothes, and parachutes.

Nylon was originally created for use as a lightweight material during WWII and was most popularly used in parachutes.

Nylon is lightweight, strong, and dries quickly, which is why it’s commonly used for outdoor gear.

Similar to other plastics, nylon is derived from petroleum.

Nylon has several environmental concerns you should be aware of. But, if used properly it can be a tool to help us be more environmentally friendly during out transition away from single use plastics.


Nylon is made in a very similar process to polypropylene, another plastic based fabric.

Polypropylene Bag

See the full comparison of plastic bags vs alternatives here: Environmental Breakdown (this breakdown does not include nylon, but does include its close relative polypropylene)

As with all plastic-based fabrics, the majority of the environmental impact is concentrated around three main points:

  1. Resources – They are made from petroleum, a non-renewable resource which contributes to global warming and has environmental impacts via extraction.
  2. Energy Use – The process of making this material is relatively energy intensive which contributes to global warming.
  3. Disposal – Being a plastic-based product nylon can be recycled but is not biodegradable, therefore it is a risk to the natural environment if not disposed properly.

Main Considerations for Environmental Impact:

Production – what is the impact of producing one bag?

  • Materials – Originates from petroleum which is a non-renewable resource
  • Energy Input – High energy input requirement (similar to other plastics)

Use – what is the impact of using one bag?

  • Durable – so it usually has a long life
  • No Known Health Implications – Does not have health concerns during use (unlike containers with BPA)

Post Use – what is the impact of disposal?

  • Non-biodegradable – Similar degradability to other plastics
  • Recyclable – Nylon can be recycled or repurposed, but it requires considerable energy

Are nylon bags more environmentally friendly than plastic bags or other types of bags?

Quick Answer:

If used properly a nylon bag is much more environmentally friendly than the most common alternatives: disposable plastic bags, cotton totes, and other types of plastic-based bags.

Detailed Explanation:

Nylon bags are similar in production, use, and post use to polypropylene bags. They generally use less material to be made than polypropylene bags so they may have a slightly lower environmental impact per bag.

The polypropylene bag has a breakeven number of 14 uses. This means that you would need to use the bag 14 times before it becomes more environmentally friendly than using a disposable plastic bag.

We do not have reliable environmental impact report for nylon bags right now. (if you have empirical data that can help us answer this questions please let us know:

Our best estimate is that nylon bags have a breakeven number close to polypropylene bags.

The Tern Pack Down

Version 1 – Our current pack down bag is made from nylon. We are looking into both recycled and reclaimed nylon for our next series which will significantly improve the life cycle impact.

Our bags are made to be durable and be used daily for several years.

Our reason for the pack down: keep this bag with you so you never forget and can always turn down plastic. We hated the feeling when you need to get a few things at the store (too many to carry without a bag) and you’ve forgotten your reusable. Other “colapsable” bags are still too bulky. So we created the Tern pack down which is half the size of most “packable” bags on the market.

If you use your Tern pack down bag…

3 times per week

You will displace over 150 bags in a year!

Whether you use ours or your own, we applaud you. Let us know how many single use plastic bags you’re turning down every week, month, or year!

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