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Reusable Bags at the Grocery Store

This article was written by in Consumer, Shopping. 19 comments.


I produce a lot of garbage, and I’m not talking about just my writing. Here’s one reason: Even though the grocery store is only about a block or two away from my apartment, I tend to take large shopping trips infrequently rather than smaller trips more frequently.

Here are the problems with this approach.

I’ve been going through a large number of plastic bags, producing more garbage than necessary. Formerly, I saved the plastic bags with the intention of reusing them for the next trip, but I never did so. This usually resulted in a ball of increasing size underneath the sink in the kitchen, consisting of crumpled plastic bags. Every once in a while, when I decided one particular ball of bags would never be used, they would go in the garbage and the process would restart.

Also, because I wait long between trips, I have a lot of food and paper products to buy, more than I can carry in one trip. Rather than walking two blocks to the store, I drive from one parking lot to the next to pile the full bags into my car, transport them back to my apartment, and carry them up to my second-floor apartment in multiple trips.

I’ve solved the first problem. Stop & Shop, my local grocery store, offers reusable fabric bags for sale. They cost $0.99 each and one fabric bag holds more than one plastic bag, and it does so more comfortably. Every time you bring a fabric bag back to the store and use it for your shopping, the cashier will provide a $0.05 credit per bag on your receipt.

I purchased ten bags in a recent shopping trip to help reduce my plastic usage. In order for this purchase to “pay off” for me, I’ll need to buy 198 bags of groceries. My initial purchase was probably too high — I didn’t realize the bags were so capacious. For one of my large shopping trips, I use only five or six bags. At that rate, it will take 33 to 36 trips to the groceries, or about three years, for me to “break even” on my purchase.

More importantly, I won’t be producing as much plastic garbage.

In terms of the second problem, my girlfriend suggested I purchase a cart to transport my groceries to eliminate the necessity of driving. It’s not a bad idea. It would reduce the short trips I take in my “gas-guzzling” Honda Civic and provide me with more exercise. I’m just about out of storage space in my apartment, however, so I’m not quite sure where I’d leave the cart when not in use. I understand there might be folding carts available, in which case, I could probably store the cart in the closet, so I’ll have to research this further.

Updated May 26, 2009 and originally published July 8, 2008. If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to the RSS feed or receive daily emails. Follow @ConsumerismComm on Twitter and visit our Facebook page for more updates.

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About the author

Luke Landes, also known as Flexo, is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about him and follow Luke Landes on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Nicole

You can actually recycle your old plastic bags! We have several stores around here that have bins just at the front to recycle them in, if you’ve still got a bunch, you may want to look into it.

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avatar WritingRita

I purchased the reusable bags too; the problem I’m having, however, is that I tend to forget the bags at home every time I go to the store. I unpack the groceries from one trip and the bags wind up staying the kitchen where I forget them the next time I go. I’d guess that, on average, I use the bags 1 out of every 4 times I go to the store.

My stores is about a mile from my house so I’ve also thought of purchasing a cart to walk and wheel the groceries back with. So far, I’ve seen a couple decent looking options at Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond but I’d really like to be able to more closely look at/touch one before I buy it. If you do end up with a cart that you really like, please feel free to share.

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avatar Emily

My local grocery store, HEB, has also started selling resuable fabric grocery bags. They can fit a ton of stuff in them so I have two (I live alone) and have started using them every time I go. I used to use plastic grocery bags to pick up my dog’s doodie, but my apartment provides several pick-up stations with bags there, so I don’t really need to provide my own. I am not sure if the store gives us credit for using the bags, though — I will have to look into that. I’m glad so many stores are starting to do this. It’s a great sign.

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avatar Nan

They definitely make folding shopping carts: they’re a staple where I live (in NYC, where few people own cars). They fold up pretty small (they have to to fit in a NY apartment), come in about three or four sizes, and cost around $15 — every corner variety store stocks them. They’re also useful for carrying laundry to the laundromat, large packages to the post office, etc. They seem to have some on Amazon, but the prices are ridiculous.

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avatar Steven

Also, if you have infants in diapers, and you use disposable diapers, the plastic bags are great for holding a soiled diaper. They tie up well, and you don’t have to buy a Diaper Genie.

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avatar Twiggers

I reuse them for dog doodie :-) With the reuseable bags….make sure you wash them!!! You are putting food into them over and over again that have been handled by lots of people. You also throw the bag somewhere, it goes in and out of your car, etc. Basically it’s a big bacteria catcher because it is fabric and absorbs everything!

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avatar Stephen

Echoing Nicole’s post — check with your local grocery store to see if you can drop off your old grocery bags. Reusable bags are still better for the environment in the long run (assuming you use them enough), but it’s really quite easy to throw all your old bags in your car before going to the grocery store and sticking them in a small bin (usually hard to see unless you know where it is — at least in my experience) before shopping.

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avatar Anon

Remembering to bring the reusable bags for the smaller grocery trips is my main hang-up; I’m good about bringing them for my big shopping trips. Plus, one of my cats likes to sleep on them, so I tend to leave them at home for her.

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avatar Amphritrite

I actually repurposed my yarn bag as a grocery bag – it’s made of bright orange canvas (a color that makes me happy!) and has six side pockets for yarn all around the outside, then a deep center pocket and a padded strap. I’m able to stick the squishable stuff on the outside (bananas, bread, etc) and put the heavier stuff in the main pocket. The result? I get home with a happy batch of groceries!

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avatar Nicole

I just use a medium sized rolling travel bag. The one i use most of the time is a backpack with wheels that has a handle that pulls up. so I wear it as a backpack on my way to the store, and then fill it with groceries and roll it back. I use it for travelling as well, so it isn’t an extra bag taking up space in my closet.

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avatar Tiffany

My fiance and I have 4 or 5 of these bags. When we’ve unloaded our groceries, we put them back on the front door so that we’ll put them back in the car the next time we go out. We keep a couple in each car. However, since we only live 0.77 miles from the grocery store, we will walk there when we need to pick up only a few things.

I have to admit to still associating the idea of a foldable cart with little old ladies (those are the only people I’ve seen use them). But the reusable bags are becoming mainstream, so I have hope the carts will, too. If we do enough walking to the grocery store and back, maybe we’ll get one.

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avatar deepali

I use reusable bags, but remembering to take them is the tough part. If I forget, then I try to get paper bags, which is what we use to line the recycling bin.

I also have a folding cart – some cheap one we bought at a corner store. It’s flimsy, but it works.

I also take shopping trips more often….. :)

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avatar Sherry

Regarding Twiggers comment about reusable bags being a big bacteria catchers, the new polypropylene bags that most grocers now sell are better than the old cloth or canvas ones as the fabric does not hold bacteria. They can still be washed and hung to dry. The downside is you’re kind of a walking billboard for a particular grocer. There are other options available like the online company where I bought mine. They’re called Ecologie Bags and their website has lots of info on reusable bags and their impact on the environment. I don’t think they sell rolling carts although I wasn’t looking for one since I have to drive to my store (but try to only do it once a week) :)

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avatar Anca

For people who have trouble remembering to take reusable bags with them, try some of the nylon ones that fold up small. I had a Chigo bag that stuffed into a little pouch which I clipped onto my purse, but I switched to the much sturdier bag from Envirosax which also becomes compact.

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avatar Lizzay

Echoing what Nan said, Flexo, since you are close to NYC, just go to any hardware or variety store in the city and they should have good durable metal folding wheeled shopping carts for a reasonable price. Don’t forget to look up in these stores because a lot of them store these carts hanging from the ceiling. Bigger wheels make it easier to negotiate steps and curbs.

Most supermarkets in the city also have hooks on the ends of the in-store shopping carts so customers can latch their own carts to the store carts while shopping. The folding carts come in single and “double wide” sizes. No NYC granny (mine included) leaves the house to go shopping without one of these!

I still have mine, but since I don’t live in the NYC area, I do get strange, but positive looks from people when I used to take my cart to the market. Since the carts at my market do not have the hooks, it is a real challenge to deal with the folding cart while shopping in the store. Also, always put the heavier items on the bottom!!!

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avatar LemmyK

My store does not offer the reuseable bags, nor do they give a discount on BYoB(ag).

For the last several years though, I too have been recycling the plastic bags. Although they are not great for the long-term waste situation, I do get at least 2 uses out of each bag. Some examples (beyond the first use, obviously taking home your groceries):

1. Picking up dog poop. Place hand in bag, pickup poop, pull inside out, tie and throw the bag out.
2. Around the house trash pickup. We have 2 kids, which leave a wake of debris in their paths… Every day, I roam the house with a plastic bag, pickiing up wrappers, old papers, destroyed toys (kids are 1 and 3), uneaten food, etc… Saves me a kitchen trash bag.
3. Diaper storage (echoing a similar point above). All our diapers go in a plastic bag we have hanging in our laundry room. After 3-4 diapers, we tie it up nice and tight, and dispose.
4. Lunch. I bring my breakfast/lunch to work everyday (apple, banana, sandwich, thermos, etc…) I usually grab a plastic bag and go.
5. Kids “dripey” items. When I pack a diaper bag, I use plastic bags to hold toothpaste, food, utensils, sunblock, etc… That way the diaper bag stays clean (mostly) and dry. I also pack an extra for soiled clothes (yep, it happens).
6. Emergency kitchen trash bags. I always forget to pickup trash bags for the kitchen can. This way, I can use these bags until I replenesh.
7. Toiletry bag for overnights. Stuff all those yuckies into a plastic bag, then into my suitcase.

You see, although I do not use fabric bags (which I really should), I do not toss the plastic bags without at least another use.

Baby steps to a better world…

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avatar Curtis

My wife bought one reusable bag at wal-mart awhile back, but we got several others for free recently at a home show (along with a bunch of other great free swag) from the table run by a local credit union. I don’t think my wife has yet remembered to bring the reusable bags with her when she goes shopping.

One idea for those leftover plastic bags you have lying around is to check with your local food pantry to see if plastic bags are something they need. I worked one summer for a food pantry, and while they got most of their plastic bags donated by a local merchant, I know that they also got some small donations of plastic bags from individuals who collected them and brought them in every now and then. If you go this route, please make sure the bags are still usable before donating (i.e., none with holes or overly stretched handles).

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avatar fathersez

The plastic bags really do serious damage.

Floods in some countries are blamed on plastic bags clogging the drains etc. Animal lovers claim the plastic bags cause havoc to animals that accidentally eat them etc.

We are so used to plastic that it will take quite a while to wean us off. In the meantime, everylittle bit helps.

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avatar SCC

We used to forget our bags but now we use TuckerBags as they can be tucked into a cute storage pouch and left in the car or handbag. This makes life easier and avoids those checkout questions.

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