There is a great article on Design Observer on canvas totes, design, and environmental concerns. I’ve included two pictures from the post along with some summary quotes. If you’re interested, check out the whole article.
I'm Not a Plastic Bag, tote bag, Anya Hindmarch, 2007
Resistance is Fertile, tote bag, Adrian Johnson, 2008
“The environmental promise of reusable bags becomes pretty dubious when there are closets and drawers full of them in every home. This contradiction can largely be traced back to the influence of graphic design. Once this gorgeous flat surface presented itself, it quickly became simply a substrate for messaging, branding, promotion, etc. Judging by the cost, producing one tote is roughly equivalent to producing 400 plastic bags. That’s fine if you actually use the tote 400 times, but what if you just end up with 40 totes in your closet? Once the emphasis shifts from reusing a bag to having a bag that reflects your status or personality, the environmental goal starts drifting out of sight.”
“The designs that make each bag unique contribute to an over-abundance of things that are essentially identical and the constant stream of newness discourages reuse.”
The gist of the article: it is tricky to solve a consumption problem with more consumption. What the canvas bag did well was create awareness: “The aesthetic power of a single design raised more awareness about the impact of plastic bags on our environment than any government or non-governmental organization. On the other hand, it is unclear that a consumable can counteract the effects of consumption.”