Commenter Nora Charles brought up an extremely good point in a recent post, namely that those supposedly eco-friendly reusable grocery bags pitched by stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes are made from petrochemicals. Not to mention that they don’t always last that long, and it’s so easy to forget them in the car. Advertised as a green option, reusable shopping bags can be a good alternative to paper or plastic, provided that you actually remember to bring them into the store every time you shop.
But are they green? As WSJ described the reusable grocery bag that supermarket chains frequently display by the checkout:
It’s manufactured in China, shipped thousands of miles overseas, made with plastic and could take years to decompose. It’s also the hot “green” giveaway of the moment: the reusable shopping bag… Home Depot distributed 500,000 free reusable shopping bags last April on Earth Day, and Wal-Mart gave away one million. One line of bags features tags that read, “Saving the World One Bag at a Time.”
You could say, okay, I’ll opt for a nice new set of cotton grocery totes, but that’s not necessarily the best choice, either. Even non-recycled plastic grocery totes may be more eco-friendly to manufacture than ones made from cotton or canvas, both of which can use large amounts of water and energy to produce, not to mention harsh chemical dyes. And even that plastic grocery tote may have taken 28 times more energy to produce than a plastic bag and eight times more energy than a paper bag. Huh.
So what, exactly, makes a reusable grocery bag green? The short answer? Using them. Four or five reusable shopping bags can apparently replace 520 plastic or paper bags each year. Unless you’re one of the (relatively rare, according to surveys) people who recycles your plastic bags, that means a whole lot of bags that won’t go into landfills. So remember to grab those bags!
What, that’s not green enough for you? You’re still worried about those petrochemicals and all that production energy? Great, I have yet another solution for you, and this one is even greener than buying new reusable shopping bags and actually using them. You could, if you have a sewing machine/serger or can borrow one, make your own reusable grocery bags using:
- plastic bags you have laying around
- old t-shirts
- any cotton you have, from leftovers to sheets you don’t want anymore
- yarn, for the knitters
- a pillowcase
- and you can even make bags with pockets so they fold in on themselves!
I think the first and the last DIYs are my favorite, even though I don’t have the patience (or the bags) necessary to actually make the first ones. The last one, though, I’m itching to try, and not just for reusable grocery bags, either. (The Beard has apparently lost all the lunch bags in the house.) Have you tried making your own reusable shopping bags? How’d it work out?