Reusable Bags: A User’s Guide

With the plastic bag ban now in effect across California, you may be scrambling to find the right reusable bag for shopping. My personal opinion is that there is not one perfect bag—rather, a set of different bags can fit a variety of shopping needs.

Some large retailers offer cheap reusable bags at the checkout counter. However, I’ve found it’s better to invest in durable bags that suit my shopping needs than to impulsively grab them when I’m ready to make a purchase. Some inexpensive options are durable and will last a long time, while others are flimsy and will deteriorate if they’re left in a hot car for too many summer days. Reusable plastic bags are an OK option only if you actually reuse them.

With so many options out there, finding the right set of reusable bags for your needs may take some time. We are hoping this survey of reusable shopping bags will help you find the perfect set a little faster! You can find certified bag manufacturers here.

Lightweight Nylon/Polyester Bag

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These bags come in a variety of sizes and brands, and they vary in quality. They make great all-purpose grocery bags and lunch bags, and they are easily washable and dry quickly, which means that food spills (cracked eggs, meat juices, etc.) are not a big problem. The only drawbacks are that they often do not have a defined, square bottom, and some brands are designed in such a way that you can’t open them wide and see all the contents at once. Look for styles that allow you to stuff the bag into a small pouch or an attached pocket for storage. A bonus feature on some brands is a carabineer that allows you to snap it onto a purse strap or backpack.

Pros: Small and compact to store, works well with groceries and wet items like meat or produce, easily washable in your kitchen sink and quick-drying, durable and able to hold a lot of weight

Cons: Small, some styles do not have square bottoms or large openings, not great for large boxes of cereal

Tarp Style Bag

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These are constructed from a thin, tarp-like material. They are durable and can generally hold a good amount of weight. The larger sizes also make great car trunk organizers, and you can fit smaller bags of groceries inside them so they don’t slide around as you drive home.

Pros: Can be used for groceries or sports equipment, and larger sizes can be used as makeshift hampers. They can be wiped down or hosed off.

Cons: Larger bag isn’t suitable for delicate groceries that can get squished (eggs, bread), a little harder to clean than nylon polyester

Traditional Canvas Shopping Bag

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You can find canvas bags almost anywhere, and they come in a variety of sizes, styles, and prices. Some styles include a square bottom, which enables the bag to stand up and hold more inside. Consider a heavy-duty canvas tote for picnics or groceries, or for storing throw blankets in your living room.

Pros: Flexible versions are easy to store, and stiffer versions with square bottoms are great for transporting flowers or baguettes. They are sturdy and durable and great to transport dry items. If you’re the artsy type, they can be easily customized!

Cons: Items that could leak, like meat or milk, may contaminate canvas. Stiffer versions are harder to fold up and store in drawers and are harder to wash.

Insulated Grocery Bags

Insulated grocery bags come in a variety of sizes and styles. Many specialty grocery stores offer economical and versatile options to get your cold goods home safely or to help transport picnic food to a park or lake.

Reusable Produce Bags

Although single-use produce plastic bags are not banned in California, they still have a negative impact on our environment. Consider buying a set of reusable produce bags. There are several styles, including mesh and cotton.

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Fine Mesh Produce Bags
Fine mesh reusable bags are great for shopping for produce and often include a drawstring to close the bag. In addition to holding produce, they can be used to rinse rice or quinoa or to strain homemade almond milk. Shop around—prices vary widely depending on size, quality of mesh, and style. Although these see-through options are great for most produce, some users say they don’t keep lettuce and greens fresh for a long time.

Cotton Muslin Produce Bags
These cotton bags are great for helping greens stay crisp. Just dampen the bag slightly before tucking it into a vegetable crisper, and it will insulate your lettuce from the circulating air that would otherwise dry it out. Opt for versions with drawstrings so you can keep your greens extra crisp.

— Christina Files
Posted on Dec 5, 2016

Summary: With the plastic bag ban now in effect across California, you may be scrambling to find the right reusable bag for shopping. My personal opinion is that there is not one perfect bag—rather, a set of different bags can fit a variety of shopping needs.