When Your Reusable Bag is No Longer Reusable

Let me start by saying that Friday was not one of my finest days. For starters, I woke up late, scrambled to get the kids off to school on time, and in the process, not only stepped in dog poop (I think it’s the neighbor up the street), but slammed my arm on the corner of the car door as I was trying to get in. Good times.

Suffice it to say the rest of the day didn’t go as badly, but when I got to the store to do our weekly shopping, I realized that I had forgotten to bring enough reusable bags. This doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s a problem. As anyone who knows me, or has read enough about me through my posts here or on my blog knows, I won’t use plastic bags anymore. Not out of some stubborn hubris, but more-so because I recognize the damage that 1,000,000 bags a minute into landfills can do, and refuse to be a part of that scenario.

So my choices were simple–head home for more bags (which wouldn’t make sense because I drove that day), buy some new bags at the store and use those (which isn’t happening because my wife will kill me if I come home with another re-usable), or make do with what I have (which is what I decided to do).

I got to the checkout line, started bagging my groceries, and it was looking like I’d be fine until I got to the milk. That big heavy bottle of milk. As I picked up the bag it was in, the seam started to tear and I could see where things were headed. So I put my bags down, took the milk out, carefully tucked it under my arm, and headed out to the car, most certainly looking pretty stupid, but at least satisfied that I hadn’t stepped into the plastic bag fray. Some may see this as extreme, but I see it as reality, and truthfully, other than the kid who made fun of me as his mother shushed him with a “Don’t point at him Donald, its not nice,” I wasn’t much worse for wear.

I got home, unpacked, assessed my bag problem, realized that it was nothing a little needle and thread couldn’t fix, and put it on the “to do” pile (if my wife is reading this, I promise I’m going to get to it soon…really). But then I got to thinking. What do you do with re-usable bags when they have come to the end of their life? On average, each bag will replace thousands of plastic bags, but like many things, eventually they will stop being useful, and throwing them out doesn’t really seem in keeping with their original purpose.

Enter ChicoBags. ChicoBags is a very cool company that I have known about for a while that makes and sells reusable bags that fold up into a cool little pouch. As a matter of fact, I used a ChicoBags bag on Friday as I carry one in the glove compartment for just such occasions. I’ve always been a fan of theirs due to their company’s ethos. They hold a monthly drawing for anyone coming to work in a carbon neutral manner, they are a member of the Fair Labor Association so everything from their labor practices to their manufacturing processes are open to surprise inspections, and they have a Zero Waste Policy.

The Zero Waste Policy at ChicoBags is two fold. First and foremost they store and examine all of their waste (sound like anyone you know?) and in doing so are hoping to achieve Zero Waste at some point down the road. At present time, they send less than 30 pounds per month to the landfill, or roughly 1 pound per person.  Seen any other companies that can claim that?  Secondly, they don’t want their bags entering the waste stream should they become unusable, so they will take any bag they sell, or any other reusable bag for that matter, and repurpose them.

Send your dead re-usables to ChicoBags and they in turn send them to a company called The Grateful Thread, who works with the Schuylkill Women In Crisis Center in Schuylkill, Pennsylvania. The center helps battered women by offering shelter, counseling, and job training among other services. Grateful Thread helps out by  employing women to take reusable bags that are no longer viable, turn them into strips, and then weave them into rugs.  After shipping, all proceeds from the rugs go straight to the center so ChicoBags is basically selling them for nothing It’s a great opportunity that keeps these bags out of the landfill, funds a great cause, helps employ women in need and teaches them a skill. Everybody wins!

Sadly, economic times have forced the Grateful Thread to shut it’s retail stores, but they are still filling special orders from companies like ChicoBags who have committed to ordering a certain number.

So grab your unusable resusables and send them off to ChicoBags. And if you don’t have any broken bags, but have too many from fundraisers and give aways, fear not. ChicoBags will take those as well and give them out to shelters and organizations that can use them, so either way, they’ve got you covered.

Bags can be sent to

ChicoBags Company
C/O Zero Waste Program
349 Huss Drive
Chico, CA 95928

As always, if you’ve got other uses for dead bags, post em up. And finally, because I always like to include a video, here’s the ChicoBags Bag Monster! Enjoy.


Dave Chameides is a filmmaker and environmental educator. His website and newsletter are designed to inspire thought and dialogue on environmental solutions and revolve around the idea that no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. “Give people the facts, and they’ll choose to do the right thing.”

Love This? Never Miss Another Story.


Linda F.
Linda F.about a year ago

Sun Sugar Farms will take reusable bags and give a $0.10 credit towards the purchase of a CRESBI crate for every reusable bag given. We repurpose them by weaving them into pet rugs, using them as "packaging" for our CRESBI crate systems should customers request it, and as reusable confetti. Our address is 1258 Maddox Lane, Verona KY 41092.

Linda F.
Linda F.about a year ago

Sun Sugar Farms will take reusable bags and give a $0.10 credit towards the purchase of a CRESBI crate for every reusable bag given. We repurpose them by weaving them into pet rugs, using them as "packaging" for our CRESBI crate systems should customers request it, and as reusable confetti. Our address is 1258 Maddox Lane, Verona KY 41092.

Jody Stickney
Jody Stickney5 years ago

About the peanuts, the stores around here only use white, mine are all kinds of mixed. White, green, pink and different shapes.
I was told to look on Craig's list, will do.
As for the little air bags I cut the tops of and use them to store things and/or put little items in that I am donating.
Also I have found cloth shopping bags at the thrift shop.
AND..donating to an animal cause has gotten me some.

Zaibatsu L.
Zaibatsu L.5 years ago

i don;t know what i like more, your article or the comments. Well, the article cos it;s soo useful.
paper shredding services fort lauderdale

Christie C.
Christie C.5 years ago

Jodys, does your employer ship stuff? The answer is likely yes, even if it's a couple packages a month. I am the shipper were I work and everyone there knows that I will take their empty boxes and packaging for reuse, whether it came from home or was something they received at work. I get so much that we rarely have to buy boxes and packaging. It saves our business money and gets another use out of what would otherwise be garbage!

Alternately, if your work won't take it, save boxes and packaging for the next time you have something to ship. You can fold flat boxes and use one big one to store packaging supplies. :)

Mama Hill
Mama Hill5 years ago

I am not sure about processed recycling them... BUT... they can be reused IF you don't deflate them... consider posting them on freecycle in your area ... You could find someone who lives close to youu who does a lot of shipping that would otherwise have to bye more... I think it is better to keep it in circulation and than to melt it down and someone bye more...

Jodys Jungle
Jody Stickney5 years ago

I have a new question, what to do with those little air bags that are used in shipping and packaging? Can I let the air out and just put the bag in a plastic recycling bucket?

Amber M.
Past Member 5 years ago

This is a great idea for the reuable bags.

Ireena W.
Past Member 5 years ago

I buy tank tops from thrift stores at the end of summer for 29-50 cents each and just turn wrongside out sew a seam or two across the bottom and remove the tag if I’m feeling ambitious. These make great bags. They hold a lot and stretch which can be good depending on what you are carrying. Just get tank tops with big neck holes!
vitamin b6

Maria W.
Past Member 6 years ago

It's a win-win situation. :-)