kayla kakes

This food blog is a way to share recipes, opinions, and stories about cooking/baking.

Reusable shopping bags – Do they make life easier?

Several years ago when I first started seeing the reusable shopping bags popping up everywhere, I thought they were cute, but not very practical.  You have to remember to bring them to the store with you.  If you don’t carry them on you, you have to keep them in your car and remember to always put them back in your car after each use.  Some of them didn’t appear to be washable, which seems to be a must when you might get stuff on them that will require them to be cleaned.  I also couldn’t see the big stores wanting to bag all of my items into these reusable shopping bags.  It seemed like it would add more stress to my life, rather than make things easier.

My big insulated Trader Joe’s bag. This bag can hold a LOT of stuff in it.

About 3 years ago, I started shopping at Trader Joe’s.  While I was there my first time, I saw one of their big insulated bags and fell in love with it.  I loved the idea of a bag that would keep my cold food items cold until I got home.  The closest TJ’s to where I was living at the time was about 15 minutes away, and since I liked to make a few stops while I was out, this was a perfect solution for keeping my food cold.  I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out that it seemed to be completely normal to the cashiers/baggers for people to have reusable bags.  They immediately loaded up all of my cold items into the insulated bag and zipped it shut.  They asked me if I had any other reusable bags for the dry food items.  I told them no, and they asked if I wanted to purchase some non-insulated reusable bags.  I decided against buying any, but I LOVED that reusable bags were the norm there.  For the next so many months, I continued to shop at TJ’s on the weekends and bring my big insulated reusable bag.  This bag was so easy to carry and convenient.  Since I always planned ahead before going to TJ’s, there was never a problem with me not having it in the car when I went there.  It was great to get home and know for sure that all of my cold food items were still cold.  Awesome!

Now that I am living about 30 minutes from the nearest TJ’s, I rarely shop there anymore and my great insulated reusable bag sits in our basement unused.  I look at it all the time and wonder where I can use this great bag again.  Should I try taking it to Target or Dominick’s with me when I go grocery shopping and see how the cashier reacts when I tell her I have a reusable bag with me?  Should I take it to the local fresh market store that I like to shop at and see if they mind bagging my items into it?  Should I take it with me grocery shopping and just bag my own items from now on?  I’ve been asking myself these questions for awhile now.

Over the last few years, we (my household) have acquired quite a few reusable bags.  We’ve received them as free gifts with certain purchases.  We’ve received them as gift bags for Christmas and birthdays.  We’ve even bought a few ourselves that we liked.  The problem is we don’t use them when we go shopping.  My daughter, Kayla, likes to play with them.  She’ll put her toys in them or walk around with them on her shoulder like a purse.  We use them for storing stuff or moving things around the house.  We use them as gift bags when we need to give a gift.  And we use them for carrying stuff to other people’s houses.  I would really like to use them for shopping, but when I am out and about, I rarely see anyone using reusable bags at our local stores.  Sure, our local stores sell reusable bags…but no one seems to use them.

A reusable bag my mom bought from Cracker Barrel around the holidays. We currently store dog toys in it.

I have seen people use the reusable bags at the farmer’s market a few times, and I think I remember seeing someone use them at one of our local grocery stores, but it’s not an everyday occurrence.  These bags seem to be a very popular item on the market now, but who is using them and where are they shopping?

I’ve done some research on reusable bags to find out the pros and cons.  I’ve also learned from experience some things I like and dislike about them.  I thought I would use this blog post to share some of what I’ve learned from my own experience, and some of what I’ve learned from doing research.  Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, and opinions with me as well.  I would love to hear from other people who use them, or who would like to use them.

There are several types of reusable bags on the market.

  • Canvas
  • Hemp*
  • Jute**
  • Polypropylene and polyethylene***
  • Polyester

* Since production of hemp is avoided in the US, these bags are usually imported from China.

** A natural plant fiber that can be spun into coarse, strong threads.

* ** Types of plastic made from recycled material. These can be recycled but are non-biodegradable.

Some major advantages/pros to using reusable bags are they make carrying your food items easier with their soft handles and ability to be carried over your shoulder.  Reusable bags tend to be able to hold more items than regular paper or plastic bags, and it’s convenient to be able to carry the bags on your shoulder rather than having to juggle multiple bags in your hands.  The soft handles don’t dig into your hands the way plastic bags do.  They are better for the environment.  Lesser damage is done to the environment during production of these bags, and you can use them until they completely wear out.  You may be able to use the same bags for years.  If you’re crafty, you can also make your own reusable bags to suit your personal taste.  If you have insulated bags, you are able to keep cold food items cold until you get home and have the option to use ice packs to keep the food cold for longer periods of time.  By using a reusable bag, you no longer have to worry about your milk getting too warm on the ride home from the grocery store.  You will no longer have to worry about plastic/paper bags getting holes or rips in them, and having your food items spill all over the place.  The reusable bags are much more durable.

Some disadvantages/pros to using reusable bags are the direct exposure to bacteria, and some believe they aren’t suitable for carrying meat and veggies.  The problem with some of these types of bags is that they either can’t be cleaned or can’t easily be cleaned.  A canvas bag can usually be thrown into a washing machine, and a polyester bag (although not the greenest of products) can easily be wiped clean with a damp cloth and mild soap.  But some of the other reusable bags are made from materials that can’t easily be cleaned.  This poses a problem because when the bag is coming into contact with certain food items, bacteria begins to grow on the bags and sometimes bugs get into the material of the bags.  So the next time you use that bag without washing it first, you are exposing your new food items to the bacteria on the bag.  Some people may use the same bags for multiple purposes and may expose other things in their household to the bacteria on these bags.  If you use these bags for grocery shopping, then use them later for clothes shopping, you are now getting the bacteria on the clothes you just bought.  Reusable bags being used for non-dry food items should always be cleaned after use.  In cases where people are not cleaning the bags and just re-using them over and over again, it would actually be safer for them to just use regular plastic bags.  A regular plastic bag from the grocery store is likely to have less bacteria on it than the bag you keep re-using without cleaning it.  I know it sounds gross, but it’s the truth.

Some things I’ve learned over the years about using reusable bags are you should always buy bags that can easily be cleaned, are easy to carry, and are very roomy inside.  I always make sure the straps can fit over my shoulder with ease so that it will be easy to carry.  The more room in the bags, the better.  If you can’t fit much in the bags, they aren’t going to be much use to you.  It’s nice to have insulated and non-insulated bags.  Put all your cold food items in the insulated bags, and all of your dry food items and non-food items in the non-insulated bags.  This will make your life so much easier.  Not only will the insulated bags keep your food cold, but once you get home, all of your cold food items will be grouped together making it more convenient to put food away.  You won’t have to search through bags looking for everything that needs to go in the fridge or freezer.  Everything will already be divided up for you.  Another tip would be to have different bags designated for different stores.  If you are someone who likes to shop with reusable bags everywhere you go, make sure you have different bags for grocery shopping, clothes shopping, etc.  Don’t use the same bag you use to go grocery shopping to go buy your kid new toys at ToysRus.  Reusable bags come in various styles and sizes.  Buy a variety of bags and decide which ones are best for different types of shopping.  And make sure that any bags being exposed to meat, veggies, and fruit are being washed on a regular basis.  Remember, reusable bags aren’t just for shopping.  You can use them when you’re going to the beach, going on a picnic, or taking food over to someone’s house for a holiday get together.  You can use them to carry your books to class, or to transport your kid’s toys to grandma’s house.  You can even buy super chic reusable lunch bags now so you don’t have to brown bag it anymore.  There are bags to suit everyone’s personal styles and needs.

Kayla’s Minnie Mouse reusable bags from the Disney Store.

In our household, we have a bunch of different types of reusable bags, from the simple and cheap to the fancy and more expensive.  I have to say my personal favorites are the ones made by Sachi.  I love LOVE love Sachi bags.  They are so roomy and they come in so many different styles and sizes.  If you’re tired of the boring reusable bags, look into getting yourself a Sachi bag.  I have a lunch bag that looks like a purse. It is completely insulated on the inside, but you would never know it’s a lunch bag by looking at it.   It is so cute.  I also have a tote that has a nice size insulated side, and a non-insulated side for personal items.  This bag is a great bag for taking on a family outing.  You can throw your normal purse items on one side, and put food and drinks on the other side.  Perfect!  Sachi also sells insulated and non-insulated market totes for going shopping.  These totes come in a variety of different colors.  They are made of polyester and are easy to clean.  I highly recommend Sachi products to all the women out there that are looking for stylish alternatives to reusable bags.  I have always loved my big Trader Joe’s insulated bag.  My daugher has two Minnie Mouse reusable bags that we got from the Disney Store.  These bags are perfect for transporting her toys and books.  I recently used one when we went to the library.  I didn’t have to juggle a bunch of books.  I just put the books in the bag and we were on our way.  I have used the reusable bags from the Disney Store as gift bags in the past when we have a kids party to attend.  The bag is usually a big hit with the birthday kid.  If you are looking for a great reusable bag for transporting food for potlucks and holidays, try insulated bags by Temp-tations.  Temp-tations bags come with a baking/cookware dish.  There is a section for storing the dish, and another section for other items.  I have two types of Temptations bags and I like both of them.  They are great for transporting food on holidays.

Small reusable lunch bag from Target. I believe we got this free when we bought something a few years ago.

Although reusable bags have some cons, I think that now days it is smart to consider using reusable bags more often.  In our house with three dogs, plastic bags do come in handy for picking stuff up in the yard.  However, I would like to help the environment and make myself feel better by using reusable bags more when going out shopping.  I know I’m not ever going to be one of those people who uses them all the time, everywhere I go, but I would like to be able to say I use them half the time.  I’m sure I may get some weird looks at the store when I tell the cashier/bagger that I brought my own bags, but it’s time they get used to it.  We shouldn’t have to feel weird about bringing our own bags to the store.  I remember the days when stores used to ask you, “paper or plastic?”  It’s about time they start asking us if we have any reusable bags with us for our purchases.  They should start a rewards program that encourages people to use reusable bags.  Maybe they could offer 10 rewards points everytime you shop with reusable bags.  I don’t know about you, but that would encourage me to remember to bring my bags with me.  With the cost of food these days, it would be nice to get some extra rewards points just for not using the store’s plastic bags.  That is saving the store some money.  I would love to see my local stores start some incentive programs.  And maybe I’m just the person to suggest it to them.  :)

My reusable insulated lunch bag by Sachi that looks like a purse.

The inside of my insulated lunch bag.

Insulated lunch bag, side view.

Insulated lunch bag, back view. There is a small zippered compartment on the back.

Sachi tote with large insulated side and a non-insulated side for personal items. The bag comes with a matching wristlet purse.

Insulated side of the interior of the tote.

Non-insulated side of the interior of the tote for personal items.

The back side view of the Sachi tote. There is a zippered compartment on the back of the tote.

Temp-tations bag that comes with a baking/cookware dish that goes in the bottom area. The top section is insulated, and there is a shoulder strap that can be attached to the bag.

Bottom section of Temp-tations bag where the dish goes. It has velcro straps inside to keep the dish secure. This section is also insulated to keep food cold or warm.

The dish that comes with the Temp-tations bag. The dish is pretty and comes with a plastic lid.

The Temp-tations bag comes with a wire basket and matching trivet for the dish.

Temp-tations bag with dish, lid, wire basket, and trivet. This bag is perfect for attending potlucks.

My other Temp-tations bag that comes with a dish, but can actually fit two dishes on the bottom and has a top section for keeping utensils, etc. The bag can even be separated into two pieces. The dish that comes with it is a red polka dot dish with lid, wire basket, and trivet.

Temp-tations bag that can be separated into two bags.

Tell me about your experiences.  Do you use reusable bags?  Where do you use them?  Do you have a favorite type of reusable bag?  What are some reactions you get when you use them at your local stores?  Please share your thoughts and opinions with me.  I’d love to hear from you.

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4 Comments

  1. Sadly, with the exception of recent innovations like insulation, the bags available today are lousy and cheaply made compared to the level of quality available in the early 1990s. In fairness, they are far less expensive but it’s clearly a case of not getting what you don’t pay for.

    Manufacturers eliminated real shoulder straps and tried to compensate by lengthening the handles. Now they don’t work well either way. I don’t know about you but I find it nearly impossible to carry a heavily loaded bag suspended from my hand without it scraping on the ground. Nor do the strap/handles work well as straps, because the ends are fastened too close to each other at the top of the bag. This tends to make the bag slide off one’s shoulder. It’s another aggravating example of a product starting out well but deteriorating drastically over a couple of decades.

    It really bites!

    Bring back the good quality reusable grocery bags, dammit!

  2. HAI,
    I’m Linda from Malaysia. In Malaysia, there are local grocery store sells reusable bag for shopping. As I seen, people do buy these reusable bag but none of them carry one when they went to shopping again. I believe it was a hassle to bring your own shopping bag each time.& I believe those store sells them only want to make profit by selling them, not more that environmental issues, they brought up to customer mind.

    In other hand, people here use tiny decorative reusable bag as a goodie bag when they have party (eg, birthday party, wedding goodie & event door gift). Most people love to keep them rather then throw it away (because of the decorative factor) but at the same time, never use them again (because of it size).

    I guess, commercial industry always have & find ways for us/customers to spend our money so they can get profit.

    • I’ve noticed we mostly use our reusable bags during the summer. We’ll use them when we go to the Farmer’s Market to get fresh produce. We’ll use them to carry lunch when we’re going to the zoo or a kiddie amusement park. I even use my insulated bags more when I go shopping in the summer to keep food cold in the car. We don’t do as many activities during the winter (because our daughter seems to get sick when she’s around a lot of germs), and we tend to not want to carry as much when we’re wearing big, heavy winter coats. LOL. I definitely like the idea of using reusable bags, but they aren’t always the most convenient option. We do have a bunch of reusable bags that we use for transporting gifts to parties and for holidays. They come in really handy.

  3. Nice experience you have! I generally use reusable bags while go for shopping.I suggest everyone to use reusable bags because they are Eco-friendly.

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