Why You Should Always Bring Reusable Bags to the Grocery Store
For most of my adult life, I used whatever shopping bags were offered at the grocery store, without really thinking.
Sure, I’d heard the environmental concerns about throwing away plastic. But I always reused my plastic grocery bags, so what harm was I really causing?
Then, a few years ago, my local grocery store began to charge for use of disposable bags, incentivizing the switch to reusable grocery bags. Always a penny-pincher, I relented and purchased a few reusable bags.
I quickly learned that relying on reusable bags was much more convenient. Since then I’ve been hooked and have carried reusable bags religiously, every time I shop. The few times I’ve forgotten my bags, I become truly irritated with the disposable bags I get stuck with!
Disposable Bags Are Awful For The Environment
Since I made the switch to reusable, I’ve done a little research on the environmental ramifications of disposable shopping bags. It turns out it’s actually worse than I originally thought.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], upward of 3 trillion plastic bags are consumed each year worldwide. The United States uses 380 billion plastic bags per year, and it takes a staggering 12 million barrels of oil to manufacture these bags.
Plastic bags are not biodegradable or recyclable. This inability to decompose results in billions of plastic bags sitting in landfills each year. As the the EPA explains, plastic bags often end up in exactly the wrong places, littering our sidewalks and roadways. Because plastic bags collect water when it rains, they can become breeding grounds for mosquitoes.
Plastic bags make their way onto our beaches and into our oceans, posing grave dangers to animals. Turtles, for example, have mistaken plastic bags for food and died from their ingestion. Fish, seabirds and other marine animals become entangled in the bags, leading to exhaustion, starvation and sometimes death.
Reusable Bags Are Fun and Convenient
The threats to our environment are enough of a reason to ditch or drastically decrease your plastic bag use. But there are many practical — and fun! — reasons to switch to reusable bags. Here are my top reasons:
1. They are are easier to carry, and hold more.
When I schlep plastic bags from my car to my house, I’m gripping them by their tenuous handles, killing my hands and wrists. My reusable bags fit right over my shoulder and are so much easier to carry. Plus, reusable bags are generally larger than disposable, so you can fit your groceries in fewer bags, thereby reducing your trips from car to home.
2. They reduce clutter.
You can’t recycle plastic grocery bags, so most of us end up storing them. I used to have an overflowing bag filled with plastic bags under my sink. It was messy, annoying, and I rarely made use of the bags.
3. They can save you money.
These days, grocery stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes will give you store credit for using reusable bags. It’s not a whole lot, but a couple of cents here and there can add up. Other stores charge you for using their disposable bags, which is a good incentive for bringing your own bags.
4. It’s effortless activism.
I probably don’t do nearly enough to spread environmental awareness. But when I sling my reusable bag over my shoulder at the grocery store, I’m sending other shoppers a message. I sometimes get questions about my bags, and I take the opportunity to educate — and hopefully inspire.
5. Reusable bags are cute and fun to collect.
My reusable bags tell a story. I got one when my kids were little and I had to trek to Whole Foods for a certain kind of OJ my son adored (that bag has some holes, but it’s holding up). I love acquiring a new reusable bag to add to my collection. I’m drawn to the bright and pretty ones, but durable and simple is great, too.
6. They can be used for more than groceries.
We use our reusable bags for trips to the beach and park. They can easily fit clothes for an overnight trip or any other odd adventure we might take. My tween recently used our reusable bags to transport his unwieldy science fair project to school.
How to Select The Perfect Reusable Bag
Not all reusable bags are created equal. Some are flimsier than others, and some don’t hold nearly enough stuff. Here’s what I value most in a reusable bag:
- Foldability: Bags that are too stiff can’t be stored as easily.
- Comfort: I like softer bags with wide, long shoulder handles.
- Durability: My grocery bags need to carry a lot of stuff, and some of it is heavy. I need a bag that will hold up.
- Sustainability: Bags made from recycled materials are awesome, and 100% cotton bags can be recycled down the line.
- Versatility: I like to be able to use my bags for more than just groceries, so bags that can seal closed or have extra storage compartments get bonus points from me.
Now that I’m firmly in the reusable bags camp, I have started to branch out. I’m considering adding reusable produce bags and reusable sandwich/lunch bags to the mix. Why not? They’re good for the earth, good for my wallet, and super-convenient too.
So what are you waiting for? Once you make the switch, you will soon find that using (and collecting!) reusable bags becomes a way of life, and an enjoyable one at that.
Download Our Free Guide to Sustainable Living.
From reducing waste to recycling and upcycling, our e-book shows simple ways to make choices you can feel good about.
Reusable cotton bags aren’t really the answer either unless you are going to keep them for 11.5 plus years.
“Reusable cotton bags seem like a fine substitution and they are—if you reuse them consistently for at least 11.5 years. According to a Danish study, anything less than that won’t offset the fact that manufacturing these types of bags creates 606 times as much water pollution as making a plastic bag. ”
That’s interesting, Chelsea! So perhaps the best solution would be to seek out reusable shopping bags that are made of recycled/repurposed plastics?
Also, I know the reason the article is talking about cotton bags that close and have extra compartments is because they offer such a bag, which is featured in the title photo. They’re quite nice, and I have one for quick overnight trips. But something to consider for anyone looking to use them at the grocery store – they’re heavy enough that scales at self-check groceries error when they are placed on the bagging space. Even when clicking “brought my own bag” first. This requires an employee to come and override the system.
Personally, I still prefer the recycled plastic “standard” reusable shopping bags for grocery shopping. The cotton ones offered by Public Goods and shown in the title image of this blog post are handy for other activities. And that being said, I really appreciate you posting the link to the Danish study. We can easily perpetuate the exact environmental harm we seek to avoid by jumping on bandwagons.