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Reusable Shopping Bags: Going Green Means USING THEM

By Christa

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:

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?

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4 Responses to “Reusable Shopping Bags: Going Green Means USING THEM”




  1. LeighB in ATL Says:

    Before I picked up some of the reusable bags, I used plain old canvas tote bags, like the kind you get from conventions or as gift-with-purchase or buy in tourist shops. My MIL had a tote bag addiction so there were plenty lying around. However, you can also find them at thrift stores and yard sales for a buck or two. The other bonus is that these can go in the wash pretty easily. I still use them sometimes but I do have some of the “official” reusable totes now, received through giveaways or purchased at the store when I forgot my other bags. So the greenest option…Use what you already have or recycle someone else’s castoffs!




  2. Jenn Says:

    I bought the freezer reusable bags and they’re awesome. They fit so much more stuff in them, so I just have to carry in 3 or 4 of the reusable bags (that can go over your shoulder) as opposed to about 10 plastic bags. I just have to work on remembering to put the bags in the car when I’m done so I don’t forget them the next time I go shopping. ;)




  3. Sarah F Says:

    I’ve knitted a grocery/market bag for myself, and bought a couple of the green-bags available at a local grocery story. However, despite the fact I’ve got them in my car, sitting where I can see them when I go to the store, I usually forget to use them. My New Year’s resolution is going to be “use the bags”.




  4. Jezebella Says:

    I made a bunch of morsbags (www.morsbags.com has a free downloadable pattern) and used them as gift bags last year. I may do so again. I’m not an expert seamstress, but these were super-easy to make.

    I think the key to re-using is to have more than you need, so if you forget a bag in the house, there are still a couple more in the car. I have a “bag of bags” in the car. The other thing I do is, as soon as I unload a bag, I go hang it on the doorknob so I have to touch it on my way out the door, which means I will take it with me and toss it in the car.













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