Let's talk about reusable produce bags

May 21 2013 | arielmstallings
Ditch the baggies! Here's how to make these puppies.
I have been working on reducing my plastic use this year. I am wondering if anyone has recommendations for alternatives to plastic bags for produce and bulk shopping at grocery stores?

Has anyone switched from those store-ready produce bags?

If so, did the store give you any problems when checking out with your produce holders? -April

My husband and I use canvas bags all the time when buying produce and other bulk food stuff, and it's totally no big deal. The one thing you'll want to do first is weigh your bag when it's empty, using one of the scales at the store. The weight of the empty bag is called tare weight, and you want to know it first so that the grocery checker can subtract it from the total weight of your produce, so that you don't pay green bean prices for a few ounces of fabric.

We found it worked great to write the tare weight on a little piece of masking tape on the inside of each of our canvas bags. Then, when we check out, our checker just peeks inside the bag to see what's in there, and we tell them the tare weight. It's super easy, super green, and super awesome!

PS: If you're in the market to make your own reusable bags, might I suggest this tutorial?

  1. Anything I would have to say would be taken from this excellent resource for weeding out waste: http://zerowastehome.blogspot.de/p/tips.html

    As for produce, I generally just go bag-less. If I need a bag I bring the one or two I have that are lying around and re-use them, but I haven't had to do that for a while… as for bulk, hm, that is trickier. Maybe just keep a few slightly hardier ones (like grocery-store plastic bags) that likely won't change the weight significantly enough to raise the price and re-use those?

    • i've never used bags for produce – long before i was into reducing packaging. it always just seemed to make groceries more complicated and create a big pile of trash.

      as for bulk foods, we tried canisters and it was a grocery store disaster (even at whole foods no one could work the scales well enough to make it work), so we've been using (and re-using) paper lunch sacks. no plastic, negligible weight, reusable if not permanent (though a year in we're still using the same ones), and you can sharpie the product name and number on the bag for ease of checkout. you do need a sturdy box to transport them in since they don't seal.

    • Mothering mother makes bulk food bags. They wash nicely and stay open while you fill them. I bought the large set. I recomend them. Abes also sells produce bags too.

  2. Check and see if there is a specialty store in your area that is set up for selling bulk. My local co-op does it, and I think Whole Foods does too. They'll let you bring your own container, and weigh it before and after you fill up. For produce, I usually just go bagless, other than my main shopping bag, unless its just been watered, then I use a plastic bag they provide. Amazon has produce bags available, so try doing a search and seeing what comes up. When I check out with reusable bags, I use the self-checkout, so I know the cashier won't miss my bag and give me a new one.

    • Unfortunately I cannot afford to shop at WF. And when I did, on rare occasion, it was a pain in the butt: I'd have to wait in line like people checking out, weight the jar or container, shop, then stand in line again to check out. I'm 66 and disabled, and single. My freezer is typically limited. My landlord won't let me compost. When I was young, I did.

      Buying perishables in bulk would be wasteful for a single person. And no, I'm not going to buy just enough to last half a week and keep going back to the store: that wastes my time, wastes gasoline, pollutes the air… and may not be as fresh at the store a half a week later as when it first came in on the truck.

      I can't get soap, shampoo, toothpaste, prescriptions, so many everyday necessities that mandatorily come in plastic or cans.

      One thing that does concern me about buying loose produce, plastic bag-free, is that lab testing of conveyor belts at checkout stands reveals them to be heavily contaminated with dangerous microorganisms such as coliform bacteria, C. difficile and pseudomonas. The sprays I see some cashiers use to wipe it down don't really kill much and it gets recontaminated quickly. Think of the people who put their produce on the baby seat of the grocery cart, then onto the belt, without thinking about what sat there first: diapers, leaking packages of raw meat and fish. The plastic produce bags keep my produce away from the surface. It's been suggested that even when you buy fresh paper bagged French bread, you should hand it to the cashier, and not put it down on the belt surface, or put a second bag over the exposed end. If you're going to cook the produce, the heat can take care of most microorganisms, but what if it's something eaten raw that doesn't wash well, like lettuce?

      I'm not sure there's a perfect solution. One thing we can still do even if we use those produce bags, is knot them tightly and repeatedly, over and over into a tight ball, before recycling them. They'll be less likely to blow around in the environment, less likely to be eaten by albatrosses, turtles and other ocean animals who mistake them for squid.

      I'm doing my best. I'm not sure I'll find anything suitable and affordable to use. It's heartbreaking.

      It's impossible to avoid plastic. I'm greener than most mainstream Americans, I was born before there was any plastic at all. but I do shop at Costco, Sprouts and Trader Joe's. I used you buy bulk at the local co-op but even they have had to resort to precutting snd pre packaging for lisbility and quality control issues and theft. Plastic is unavoidable there. You can't buy yogurt without plastic. Rewashable bags don't keep produce fresh, require tare weights, and if what's in them spoiled, they'll never be safe again no matter how you wash them. I'm still searching online for bright ideas. Diligently.

  3. I found lightweight mesh bags meant for produce at a couple of stores like PCC and Whole Foods. While I resisted buying them for a while (do we really need special bags for fruit?), I broke down and bought one a few weeks ago and immediately stocked up with another handful of them. They're opaque so you can see what's in them, you can throw them in the laundry, and they roll up small to fit in my purse. Winner! I think you can find them in either the produce or paper goods section of these kind of stores.

  4. I've never had any issues with using re-usable produce bags. I often get comments that it's a great idea and cute. Whole Foods and other local "natural foods" markets don't even blink an eye when I use them, and they've said when I get bulk spices that they love it when people bring in their own jars so they don't have to use plastic bags. If you're not crafty and don't want to make any baggies, Etsy has a ton of shops with baggies, and here are two of them:

    I have mesh produce bags from this shop that I love, and they weigh almost nothing:
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/LoveForEarth

    And I asked for some bulk bags and little bulk spice bags for my b-day from this shop and can't wait to get them:
    http://www.etsy.com/shop/kootsac

    • Mesh is great for some things like onions and potatoes and apples, but they're porous. I need something that preserves the moisture in other kinds of produce. I feel like an earth traitor, but I have to eat, and I want my valuable produce to stay fresh until I'm ready to cook it.

  5. Sometimes asking a cashier to rearange the tare weight is too complicated. MY solution: Use ONE of their veggie bags (heck, reuse it if you have to) for them to weigh the item, then transfer to your own produce bag

  6. We basically just don't use produce bags, except for when we get little things (green beans, cherries, etc.) Since we use those bags for our cat litter (can't flush cat poop in California, as toxoplasmosis makes male sea otters murder their mates), it works out. I'd love to do without the plastic bags entirely, but my understanding is the greenest thing for the cat litter is to seal it in plastic bags then stick it in the landfill.

    Big stuff just doesn't need a bag. Greens, cabbage, fruit, etc, can go straight in your bag. As a bonus, if you are using canvas grocery bags, then you don't have to worry about the wet produce tearing the bag.

    • Cabbage (a simple example) can go straight in your bag, that's true. And it can go straight into the fridge, too. But it's also wasteful and disrespectful to to throw out the browned cut edges and outer wilted leaves when you don't eat an entire cabbage at once, and it oxidizes or shrivels unprotected. I keep thinking of all the people, water, fuel and time it took to grow, harvest and transport that cabbage, as well as the money I spent on it. I use plastic bags for lack of choice. Produce spoils in a spacious bin, and my fridge bins are full. If something spoils and I don't catch it, it will contaminate everything else in the bin. And I'm not rich. I'll keep looking online for better suggestions.

  7. I bought ours (amazon) and made some too (0ld sheet). I love them. I have net bags for produce and cloth bags for bulk items (flour, sugar, etc). I was going to make some ripstop nylon bags too but I never got around to it. Etsy has plenty if you don't want to DIY. I never tare my bags, I'm too lazy and don't really care (plus our store gives us a credit for each bag we use so it's all about the same in the end).

    Our regular old reusable grocery bags are so torn up I'm just about to go re-seam them (again). I bought canvas bags for a dollar each at Michael's like five years ago, painted them up and they're still going strong. I get tons of compliments on the one I painted with an octopus. =D

    • Love the old sheet idea–my husband suggested we use old pillowcases, and it worked beautifully. We got four bags out of each one, and everyone at our hippie grocery store loves them. We don't bother with the tare either, but now that I have some mesh (bed curtain salvaged from the Ikea as-is section), I'd like to make some new, lighter bags.

  8. I have used reusable produce bags at my local Meijer (a large franchise grocery store in the American Midwest). They never give me a hassle when I use reusable containers instead of their 1-use plastic bags. I've had the best benefits from sacking green beans in a t-shirt bag. (I sew my old t-shirts into small tote bags, so I can keep the love going.)

    Other than that, my local natural grocery store sells honey in bulk. First they ask me to weigh my honey jar before I fill it. Then I walk over to the bulk aisle, pick my honey and pour it into my jar. Then I go back to the register and I only pay for the amount of honey I poured into my jar. They have a similar process for peanut butter that is ground in-store.

  9. I too use the mesh produce bags (that I bought at Meijer) with no problem. I like to use the self checkout, but the cashiers don't bat an eye. Sometimes I worry that the drawstring will get stuck in the conveyor belt, but it hasn't happened yet!

  10. So this is because I'm a germaphobe and part of my mother's job is in food safety:
    produce scales are NASTY.

    The farmer and produce packer have to WATCH their employees wash their hands and send people home if they appear to be sick in order to get certain types of certification. But anybody can stroll in the grocery store, use the bathroom and not wash their hands, be carrying around multiple sicknesses, etc., and then go touch the produce.

    Things like onions, garlic, or bananas, etc. have natural "wrappers," so I don't use any type of bag for them.
    Foods like apples I try to buy in the bulk bags- that way nobody has touched them since they left the packing facility. They are almost always cheaper that way, too. I reuse or recycle the bags.
    Someone above mentioned using ONE of the plastic bags, then transferring the produce to your own bag- I love this idea! You could lay it over the produce scale to keep your produce cleaner, weigh all your produce at once, then transfer it to your own bags.

    And if you go to a farmer's market, nobody looks at you twice for bringing your own tupperware, bags, etc. to carry home food!

  11. I have green mesh bags I got from the dollar store a year or so back. They are rather large, and were marketed as laundry bags, I guess for socks or undies? Couldn't beat the price: 4 for $1 and whenever they get smelly I just toss them in the wash. LOVE them and so cheap.

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