Out here in California, and I’m sure other states as well, there is a debate on whether to take away our disposable (plastic and paper) grocery bags. So many people have become so dependent on the luxury of having bags provided and our goodies bagged for us! It’s all part of the cost of doing business, right?
Well, if we step outside of the U.S. bubble you’ll notice that other countries have been on the “bring your own bags” bandwagon for decades. I first discovered this when my husband and I took a trip to a little island in the Caribbean called Bonaire back in 2003. We hit the market to prep food for the week for our group and after two carts full of groceries we were ready to check out! The groceries just kept piling up at the end of the counter as we just stood there waiting for someone to bag them up for us. The checker then informed us that we had to bag our groceries ourselves. I’m sure she got a kick out of the look of confusion as we frantically looked around at where they kept their bags as the groceries were getting ready to spill off the counter. Well, turns out they didn’t have any! The manager had a few paper bags (which hold barely anything) in his office and offered to sell them to us for a “kwartie” each, which was the equivalent of a quarter. That wasn’t so bad, except there were only 3 bags! We ended up shoving items in our shirts and making several trips to the truck to get our haul of groceries out of the store. The local’s all got a big kick out of it all! At first I chalked the “no bags” thang up to it being a poverty stricken island and that they couldn’t afford the luxuries we American’s have become accustom to. Turns out it wasn’t all about being poor because we encountered similar embarrassing situations later in Italy and then Bali. When will these Americans ever learn!
When I got home from our trip to Italy there was one of those daily deal newsletters from one of my favorite sites sitting in my email for reusable grocery bags. Was this a coincidence? That’s when my obsession started and the research began! I’m sure I don’t really need to go into the details on WHY it’s best to bring your own reusable bags when you are out shopping so instead I’d like to share with you what I’ve learned over time from all the different reusable bags on the market!
I will admit, I do have different reusable bags for different things. I have learned that each species of bag works great for some things but not for others. I’ve broken them all down into categories that I have felt works best for us….
The Travel Bag:
You know when you go the market and you’ve forgotten your bags and the guilt sets in…”okay, I’m just gonna get a couple of these bags right here and I’ll remember next time.” You know the ones…sitting at the end of the belt for .99cents, DON’T DO IT! $5 later you’re stuck with 5 space taking bags and they really don’t stand up to the durability and sanitary requirements you need in a grocery bag. After all, these bad boys are supposed to LAST in order to defeat the purpose of the “throw away” kind.
Since I’ve managed to accumulate several of these and feel even more guilty just throwing them away, I like to use them as travel bags (also see “giveaways” below). I really like this style of bag when I need to pack some extras for the kiddo or if we do road trips. They give me the ability to just grab something really quick out of them and they have some stability to them so they don’t tip over easy. My favorite bags for this category are the ones you can pick up at the Disney Store. Most of the time there is a style on clearance or discounted when you make a purchase. They have a plastic board bottom insert and an exterior pocket.
The Versatile Grocery Bag:
I’ve developed my different bag categories from my attempts to find the perfect grocery bag. Since it defeated the purpose to just throw them away if I didn’t like them they either fell into the “Giveaways” section or if they were cute and still somewhat functional they made it to the “Travel Bag” section.
With Grocery bags I’ve become super picky! They have to be:
- Hold a decent amount of goods
- Compact for storage
- And easy to CLEAN!!
My top pick for grocery bags are the Envirosax! I have been using these for over 10 years now and I still have all my original bags. I actually fell in love right away. After testing for a few months I decided we could move to perma-stash mode and keep building our love from there. And I actually get quite a few compliments on how cool and functional they are! My husband tends to get a little jealous over it but he loves them just as much! I believe I purchased ours around 2004 and don’t remember them being as pricey as they are now, seeing as how I bought a ton of sets as gifts. I love my friends but $38 a set is more love than I have to give! Either way, they are totally worth it since they are still in great shape after 10 years of use on a weekly basis!
When I say my grocery bags have to be Durable, I MEAN IT! Envirosax are the workhorse of reusable bags. They are made up of a water resistant polyester that gives them the ability to hold a ton of weight and twice as many groceries as other reusable bags without even popping a seam.
The Envirosax are also super compact and fairly easy to fold up. I’ve had a lot of practice so it’s really a no-brainer for me now. I always have a couple in my purse/diaper bag/car and they never get in the way. They are just there when I need them.
Now here’s the IMPORTANT part! Groceries are fairly clean but when purchasing meats, veggies and dairy, there can be food residue left in your bags. I know they have plastic bags for produce and meats but messes still happen! I found that MOST reusable bags weren’t washing machine safe. At most you could do was just wipe them down. All those nooks and crannies for bacteria to hide….Uh, Gross! The Envirosax are MACHINE WASHABLE! We’ve trashed a few with Costco meat department visits or even the Farmer’s market visits with all the dirt caught in the foliage of fresh produce and they were renewed with a trip to the washing machine! See what I mean by LOVE??
We also use our envirosax for other purchases. They really are a great versatile compact bag.
The Produce Bag:
So you have your reusable grocery bags but now all those pesky produce bags. The struggle I had with finding a solution for those was that not only did those plastic bags serve the purpose of containing your produce when you shopped but they also kept your produce fresher while in the fridge. Ever store lettuce in the fridge naked? Yeah, soggy, wilted lettuce the next day. Not exactly appetizing.
I really like these Eco-bags. I actually store my Envriosax in them to make it easy to just grab and head to the store. They come in different sizes and have really worked for us in the produce department. The only downside is when using them for fresh greens. Since it’s a mesh bag it’s not going to keep your greens fresh and crisp when storing them in the fridge. Most produce you can just throw in the fridge free range and they do perfectly fine.
A friend introduced me to the Peak Fresh Produce Bags. I’ve seen something similar on infomercials but these are way more affordable and get the job done! I just transfer my greens to these guys when I get home and they stay just as fresh if not longer in these and I can wash and reuse them!
The Grocery COOLer Bag:
Oh the search for a functional collapsible cooler that doesn’t leak….
This has become another picky item for me. The ideal Cooler Bag for me has to have:
- Have a flat bottom so items can rest comfortably standing up. I hate it when tilted items leak
- Has to actually keep my items cold. A good seal is essentially
- Leak Proof
- And of course, Durable!
And after testing out quite a few cooler bags the Costco Cooler bag wins. I actually don’t have to use a cooler bag that often since our weather is pretty fair and for the most part I head home right after the grocery store but there have been a few occasions when this has saved lives. Mainly the lives of my fresh food!
I prefer a cooler bag vs. an actually plastic cooler because they are easier to tote around, especially if you want to use for market runs. I also like to travel with it because they take up less space and collapse down when not in use.
The Costco Cooler bag is a seasonal item so be sure to get one while they are out….which is right about now.
You remember those last minute “reusable” bags at the end of the grocery check out? For the most part, those have ended up as my giveaways. Or other free bags I’ve accumulated from promotional items that don’t meet my requirements to be used in my other categories. When someone comes over and I end up sending ‘em home with food or hand-me-downs, I just grab one of these. They are more durable than a regular plastic bag and hold a bit more. The majority of the time the new owner is totally stoked on them since they know they can reuse them. It’s a win-win!
I hope my dedication to research and trial and error or reusable bags has helped you out in your journey to save the environment….one bag at a time!
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