I think I’ve tried just about every type of reusable shopping tote out there. From the inexpensive synthetic ones you can buy at the checkout counter of your local grocery store to eco cotton and pricy rigid totes that are more like a crate than a bag, there are a lot of options and they each have their pros and cons. Since reusable totes are only beneficial if you are actually using them – and using them for at least a year to offset the energy and materials it takes to manufacture them – it makes sense to pay attention to which options are best suited for you and how you live.
I’ve got two current favorites at the moment. The first is the Baggu. Let’s start with the cons. It is not made locally (made in China) and while they do make a commitment to fair labor practices, it isn’t totally clear what that means. It is not made of a renewable material, and while it is made from recycled material, 41% of the material used to make the fabric is not recycled to keep their costs down.
But here’s what is great about it: It is huge when unfolded. It can carry up to 50 pounds of groceries, and really does hold as much as several plastic bags. Even though it has so much capacity, it folds up into a nearly flat 5″x5″ square that fits neatly in a purse or pocket. It comes with a cute little pouch that keeps it neatly folded. I’ve never been without a reusable bag since buying it, because it always goes straight back in my purse when I’ve emptied it. The nylon is very high quality. I’ve had mine for about six months now. I use it at least once a week and it still looks like new. When it gets dirty, it does right in the wash and comes back out looking brand new. Baggu does offer a recycling option when the bags do wear out.
My second favorite is where the renewables theme comes in. A favorite of healthfood stores everywhere, EcoBags Stringbags are another option that folds down small enough to fit in a purse (although you might not want to keep it in there all the time).
Although perhaps not as cute and stylish as the Baggu nor quite as large, they have the benefit of being made of a renewable resource (certified organic cotton) and being a fair trade/fair wage product. I’ve had two of these for at least a decade, but they sat unused in the bottom of a drawer for several years after they developed holes and I started losing as many groceries as I was carrying! I considered composting the bags, but decided to give repairing them a shot.
So glad I did! I had some colorful yarn scraps left over from knitting projects, and used the yarn to weave the spots with holes back together. The yarn is holding up beautifully and adds a little personality to an otherwise bland looking bag. Will I get another year out of them? Or another five? Regardless, the repairs were simple, free, and are keeping two bags out of the landfill (or compost pile) a little bit longer. A definite win!
So why am I writing about shopping bags on a blog about permaculture? Because permaculture is about more than just gardening. It is about rethinking every aspect of your life and home, finding the areas where you are wasting something which can be reused or buying “inputs” when you can use something you already have on site. Repairing what you have (like these lovely shopping bags) and composing them when they are no longer usable, means that you are limiting inputs and using every bit of the materials and energy it took to make the bags as possible. That’s what valuing renewables and closing the loop is all about.