By Blythe Copeland, Planet Green
With shoppers coming home with more than 1 million plastic bags per minute, we all know that cutting back by using fabric bags is an easy way to stop litter. But how much good are those bags actually doing you? If you’re not keeping them clean, choosing sustainable materials, or finding smaller sizes for produce, then you might not be making as much of an impact as you think.
1. Choose Your Materials Carefully
If you’re on a mission to give up plastic bags, then shouldn’t you make sure that your replacement totes are made from sustainable materials? Reusing the plastic bags you already have at home is one solution; also, look for bags made from recycled plastic, organic cotton, hemp, or even polyester or polypropylene (as Pablo pointed out on TreeHugger, the difference in the impacts of canvas, polyester, and polyproylene are minimal compared to the positive difference they make compared to plastic). And make sure you find a grocery tote that’s durable enough to haul home all your food on trip after trip—so you don’t wind up needing to replace them after just a few uses.
2. Make Your Own
Even better than buying new, try your hand at refashioning materials you already have at home into carryalls with a one-of-a-kind look. From ridiculously simple solutions, like using a pillowcase as a bag, to patterns that require a bit more sewing (like turning an old tank top into a tote), there are dozens of ways to DIY your own bags. Bonus: you’ll be upcycling instead of recycling, saving carbon—and money—at the same time.
Image credit: storebukkebruse
3. Keep them Safe
Make cleaning your bags part of your regular housekeeping routine to prevent mold, yeast, and bacteria from building their own little homes in your foodspace with a few simple tips: bring bins or boxes to keep milk, frozen foods, and dairy from getting your bags wet; keep meat and fish apart from your fresh fruits and veggies to prevent cross-contamination; and wash or rinse your bags when you get home. It’s also important to make sure the bags dry completely, since the dark, moist insides are a favorite spot for germs to breed.
4. Remember the Produce
Bringing a canvas, hemp, cotton, or recycled plastic bag to the store and then filling it with fruits and veggies in their own individual plastic bags isn’t exactly a perfect solution. The easiest alternative? Don’t bag your fruits at all; unless you’re buying huge quantities, it’s not difficult to run them across the scanner one at a time. And if you really need to keep your apples, lemons, onions, and peppers separate, then use old sports jerseys to make produce bags; the mesh lets air circulate while protecting delicate produce.
5. Remember Them
The real key to making your grocery bags work for you is both the simplest and the hardest change: remembering to bring them to the store. Keep a few in your car, some fold-up versions in your purse, backpack, or briefcase; hang a few on the door or in the garage as a reminder when you’re headed to the car. If you need extra encouragement, try these “Don’t Forget the Bag” tags for your door handles and key racks.
6. Bag Your Lunch
Bringing your lunch to work is an easy and effective way to trim your carbon footprint, your spending, and your weekly trash output—and if you’ve been using your leftover plastic bags to carry those leftovers into your office, then it’s time for a greener solution. Pick up a used lunchbox at a thrift store or yard sale; choose a set that includes BPA-free containers; or replace your plastic or brown bags with smaller versions of the totes mentioned above. And if you’re a die-hard takeout fan, then at least keep a spare reusable bag in your briefcase so you can avoid taking a plastic version from your local sandwich shop.