Eco-novice's Guide to Reusable Produce and Shopping Bags

Happy Earth Day!

First, a few facts about single-use plastic bags:
  • It is estimated that worldwide plastic bag consumption falls between 500 billion and 1 trillion bags annually. That breaks down to almost 1 million every minute.
  • The average family accumulates 60 plastic bags in only 4 trips to the grocery store.
  • Only  0.5% to 3% of all bags winds up recycled.
  • Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts .
  • A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
  • When plastics break down, they don't biodegrade; they photodegrade. This means the materials break down to smaller fragments which readily soak up toxins. They then contaminate soil, waterways, and animals upon digestion.

I wrote about a few of my Earth Day Resolutions last week. One of my resolutions is to stop using single-use plastic produce and shopping bags. I've tested out a number of bags over the last year, and will now share my budding expertise with all of you.

Reusable Shopping Bags

Paper Grocery Bag, Free - THUMBS DOWN

Paper Bags (handed out free at grocery stores)
Step one in my journey was to reuse the paper bags I got at the grocery store.  But these bags are not intended for long-term use, and I soon discovered that the handles came off at an alarming rate.  Despite my vigilance in bringing my bags back almost every time, I still found I needed to request one or two more bags almost every time I shopped for groceries.

Cheapy Recycled Plastic Grocery Bag, 99 cents - OK

Cheapy Plastic 99-cent Reusable Plastic Bags (available everywhere with store logo)
Eventually, I started buying up enough of the flimsy plastic reusable bags (usually made from recycled materials) for my groceries.  These lasted a year or less. First to go: the handles.  In addition, they cannot be washed. Also, reading about lead in cheap reusable bags did give me pause. 

Durable Fabric Reusable Shopping Bags, $4.95 and up  - THUMBS UP

Heavy-duty Cotton and Plastic Shopping Bags
Finally, I invested in some real reusable shopping bags from I bought the bag pictured above made from recycled cotton. They don't stand up on their own as well as the flimsy plastic bags  or paper bags, because the material is less rigid.  On the other hand, they are much easier to collapse and shove inside another bag for storage and carrying.  Overall, they have worked out very well for us.  The two sizes of handles allow easy carrying by hand or over the shoulder.  I never worry that the handles will rip off because I've filled the bag too full.  And perhaps because I took the effort to research the bags and pay a little more dough for them, I seem to remember to bring them to the grocery store more consistently.  I've been using them for nearly 3 months now, and see absolutely no signs of wear-and-tear on them.

Ultra-compact shopping bags, $5.95 and up - THUMBS UP

We have one other type of shopping bag too: the Reuseit Workhorse (pictured above).  This bag is a sturdy yet lightweight bag made of recycled plastic that folds up into a tiny packet which can be carried in your purse or put in a glove compartment. I purchased this bag to keep in my husband's car, in the hopes that it will help him kick his single-use plastic bag habit. He doesn't shop much anyway, but I feel sad when he makes a run to Rite Aid for infant ibuprofen and comes home with one of those single-use plastic bags.  An ultra-compact bag like the Reuseit Workhorse is great to have on hand for times when you didn't even know you were going to go shopping, or simply forgot your bags.  This is the only kind of shopping bag that works for some folks.

Reusable Produce Bags

Mesh Cotton Produce Bags, $3.95 - OK

These work well for purchases, but not for storage.  It's nice that you can easily see what's inside and that they weigh very little, so that you are not paying extra at the produce scale.  I tend to use them for apples, oranges and other items that will just be dumped into a drawer or basket when I get home.  In general, you can't really go wrong with produce bags.  Even if you find a certain type is not working for you for produce, you will doubtless come up with dozens of other uses for them around the home or on the go (especially if you are trying to give up your gallon ziploc habit).

Cotton Produce Bags, $3.45 - OK
Cotton Produce Bags
These also work well for purchases (although it's more difficult to see what's inside than with mesh), but not for storage. Like the mesh bags above, I tend to use these for apples and oranges and other produce that doesn't need to be stored in a bag. These would also work well for buying from bulk storage bins. Label them and reuse them for the same bulk items, or wash between uses.  

Recycled PET Mesh Produce Bags, $5.95 and up for set of 2, 
$10.95 and up for set of 4 - Thumbs Up

I was sent a set of these bags (pictured above) free for review by Reuseit.  These work well for purchases (you can usually tell what's inside because of the mesh).  There are also white mesh plastic bags, which would easier to see through. They are also more lightweight than the cotton produce bag (probably about the same as the mesh, I'm guessing).  These are OK for short-term storage.  My friend LR has these very similar mesh plastic bags, and says they work fine for storage for her.  But I found that my produce didn't fare as well in these bags long-term as they did in a single-use plastic produce bag.

I actually compared the Recycled PET Mesh Produce Bag side by side with a single-use plastic bag by storing some of my broccoli in each type of bag inside the same produce drawer.  After about a week, neither had gone bad and both were still vibrant green, but the broccoli inside the Recycled PET Mesh Produce Bag was bendy while the broccoli inside the single-use plastic produce bag was still crisp.

I used broccoli to compare how well PET Mesh Bag and
a single-use plastic bag preserve produce in the fridge.

So here is the solution I came up with.  I do not like transferring food from one bag to another when I get home from the store, so that is out.  But I did try putting my Recycled PET Mesh Produce Bag inside a single-use plastic bag to store produce, and this worked beautifully.  Just to be clear: produce inside PET Mesh Bag, Mesh Bag inside single-use plastic bag (I need a photo of this). Now, you may be wondering, what is the point of that?  Why not just reuse the single-use plastic bag?  

First of all, I am much more likely to remember to take and use a green mesh produce bag with me to the store than a single-use produce bag.  I know this from experience.  Second, I don't like reusing single-use plastic products.  They weren't designed for that, and I'm guessing you are asking for more chemical leaching from the plastic by doing this.  I don't want 6-month-old single-use produce bags touching my produce. Third, if my cilantro goes bag inside a single-use plastic produce bag, I am not going to wash it out and reuse it.  I'm just not.  The bag is too flimsy and a big pain to clean.  However, I will toss those mesh bags in the wash after rinsing out the majority of food.  I have a few clean single-use produce bags that only live at home, so I never misplace them, and when I get home from the store, I slip my Recycled PET Mesh produce bag inside a single-use plastic one.  So far, it's worked about quite well for me.

End Your Single-Use Bag Habit

All the bags reviewed in this post can be purchased from  They are offering $1.99 shipping for the entire month of April in honor of Earth Day.  In addition, if you order by April 25, 2011 and use the coupon code EARTHDAY, you will receive the Recycled PET Mesh Workhorse FREE with any order (while supplies last).

This is shopping you can feel good about.  Consumption that reduces consumption.  

Disclosure: I am an affiliate for If you buy something from them via my blog, I receive a small percentage of the purchase. I received the Recycled PET Produce Bags free to facilitate this review. All other bags mentioned in this post were purchased with my own money. Read my disclosure policy here.


  1. I have a challenging question in regards to the "lasting" produce.
    What is the point of buying fresh if you don't use it up within days? Aren't you shopping at least once a week? Why would you keep things in your fridge for more than a week?

  2. Now that my farmer's market has 2 organic vendors, I shop there weekly for my produce. But before, I had to drive a significant distance to get to a grocery store that sold organic produce, and I sometimes shopped for 2 weeks at once. Also, even when I plan to use fresh produce within a week, it does not always happen. With small children, sometimes life does not go according to your plan...

  3. This bag is great for carrying my necessities while traveling. I'm very pleased with it.
    Cotton Bags

  4. Using reusable shopping bags is one of the easiest and impacting ways to do something good for the environment. Reusable Shopping Bag is Strong and durable and can be recycled. Thanks a lot.
    freezer bags


Have something to say? Please leave a comment!
I read all comments and try to respond to questions in a timely manner.
Comments are now moderated due to spam overload and have to be approved (by me) - so don't worry if your comment does not appear immediately after you publish it.


© 2008-2020 Eco-novice: Going Green Gradually All Rights Reserved

Copyright © Eco-novice | Powered by Blogger

Design by Anders Noren | Blogger Theme by