Burlap is the name for a woven cloth, often rougher and coarser than canvas, originally made from jute, or hemp. Nowadays green versions are still made from those fibers, but there are also polypropylene burlaps available. The original stuff is incredibly useful for rough use as it is very tough and resistant to wear.
It also has the rare -– among natural fibers -– property of not changing much when put through repeated wet/dry cycles. This is unlike, say, cotton based cloths such as canvas, which stretch under use and when dampened, then shrink while drying, and often lose strength due to the wear those changes cause to the fiber. The jute that burlap is made from is one of the strongest of the natural plant fibers. As it is plant based, it is also biodegradable.
It is grown in areas where no irrigation is necessary, just natural rain. This all makes burlap, and bags made from burlap, ecologically-sound choices for packaging. Burlap bags in the USA may also be called gunnysacks, or tow sacks. Tow is an old word for flax, hemp, or jute fiber. They have been used for everything from construction projects to holding produce, such as coffee beans, rice, or potatoes, for shipment. These would use the more loosely-woven forms of burlap. There are also more finely-woven forms available, also called burlap. Sometimes they are called “hessian” or canvas. The hessian is considered a cloth, and can be used not only as a burlap bag, but also in home decoration as backing for curtains, or the base of a chair cushion.
It is also used for theatrical needs, and acoustical insulation. The canvas form of burlap bags is the finest weave available, and looks much like cotton twill. In India, which grows a lot of the world’s burlap, the canvas is used for protection from wet weather. Any type of burlap bag will be resistant to rough handling. As burlap is a natural fiber, it also breathes, which means produce stored in such a bag will be less apt to mold and go bad. Or metal stored in it will dry, if made wet, instead of sitting damply forever, and rusting away. Nowadays with Americans interested in making ecologically-sound choices, people are finding new uses for burlap bags. They are coming out of the outdoors into the home.
If you look around on the web, you can find burlap lunch sacks, handbags, totes, and gift pouches, some of which look quite nice. With all of these new uses being found for burlap in bag form and as other items, the choices available are exploding. No longer is burlap available in just the natural golden shade. Now colors are available, such as billow blue and emerald green.
The sizes of burlap bags have also exploded. Now they come in more than small, medium, and large. Sizes of burlap bags that are available on the web range from four inches by six inches to twenty-eight inches by forty inches. There appear to be even larger burlap bags, called potato bags, marketed for use in sack races. No dimensions are supplied, however, just the information that it can hold 100 lbs of potatoes. That sounds like it would hold enough of even the largest person who might participate in a sack race.
If the plethora of choices is not enough, custom burlap bags are also available, with the option of having a name, logo, motto, and so on, printed on them. In all these wonderful qualities, is there a downside? Yes. Burlap bags are made from a plant fiber, which means, if untreated, it is flammable. It is possible to treat them with flame retarding chemicals, but then, of course, the choice of burlap would be less environmentally sound. It is also possible to treat the bags to resist mildew, and the US military requires it of their burlap bags. When the bag is to be used in areas where it will get wet and stay wet, this option is probably worth considering. What sort of use might require it? Flood control sandbags. Bags that would rot quickly are not what you want when building up emergency flood control walls. Overall, burlap bags are flexible, green, and useful. Keep them in mind, next time you need a container.