Monday, August 25, 2008

Reusable Shopping Bag Collection

Many moons ago I posed the following question.

Anyone interested in reading about my collection of reusable shopping bags . . . ?

To which I received the following answer.
Um, me!

Currently I am torn between knitting up reusable string bags (light, convenient, inexpensive, but cut into scarce knitting time) and/or buying lovely tote bags on etsy that I can use over and over.


Add that to California's contemplated 25 cent bag tax and here we are.

Right from the start, let me make my position clear: I am in favor of using resuable shopping bags. Plastic bags are bad for the environment on a lot of levels and paper bags aren't perfect either. Really, reusable shopping bags make a lot of sense. But I'm not so sure that rampant consumerism is the solution.

I lack the knitting skills of Gentle Reader (or the average Simian, frankly, as my knitting awe is well-documented). Nonetheless I have been fascinated by the folks who have knitted plastic grocery bags into reusable grocery bags (though digging them up on WhipUp is not nearly as easy as it should be with its site search). Along those lines, I found a tutorial on fusing grocery bags together to piece together into reusable grocery bags.

However, there are two reasons I haven't pursued transforming plastic grocery bags into reusable grocery bags. First, we have dogs. "Huh?" I hear you cry. Every plastic bag we get that doesn't have a hole in it is used to pick up dog waste. In fact, some family members have even taken to saving up their plastic bags and bringing them to us when they come visit, which is awesome. While in Bloomington, as we started to use reusable bags and shopped minimally at mainstream grocery stores, we actually regularly ran out of poo-bags.

Second, the few bags with holes in them we use to line the bathroom garbage cans, which green or no, I don't think I could live without. If someone can suggest a SANITARY alternative to lining your bathroom garbage can with some kind of bag, I'd be happy to hear it.

Of course, as plastic grocery bags go the way of the dinosaur (petroleum product goes the way of petroleum source, kinda ashes to ashes, get it?), we've started to look into alternatives like Bio Bags for our dog poo and bathroom garbage can lining needs. But those don't seem like reasonable alternatives to plastic grocery bags qua grocery bags.

I, too, contemplated buying tote bags for the purpose of carrying groceries. But the idea of buying something that isn't entirely carbon neutral, and in the long run might be more difficult to recycle to replace something that is relatively easy to recycle, seemed wrong. At the same time I was contemplating these options, I received my first free bag.

Whole Foods back in Silver Spring, Maryland, gave away these insulated bags with purchases over some gawdawful amount. As it was Whole Foods, that amount was easy to reach. This bag holds a TON of stuff. The zipper is on the fritz, but that doesn't really impact its ability to carry said TON of stuff. And if you get just the right OCD bagger, they'll actually put the cold stuff in the insulated bag. There was this one bagger at Bloomingfoods who I seriously stalked just so she would bag my groceries because she was SO OCD and packed this bag like nobody's business. I miss her so. One tip: with bags this big, suggest the bagger actually put it in the cart prior to filling it. Otherwise fitting into the cart can be a challenge. Sometimes for their spine's sake, baggers won't bag in the cart, but some spry young things will.

If you're the first person to sign up for a People's University class through Bloomington Parks and Rec, you get a free tote bag. How awesome is that? I got this one for a People's University class at Bloomington Cooking School with Chef Matt O'Neill. It was an awesome class. The meal we cooked alone was worth the money, especially if one partook of the accompanying wine. I've seriously used the skills he taught me every time I've cooked since that class. And though this is the least sturdy of my totes, it has held up fine. I think most baggers understand that this is not the canned goods tote.

I can't say that going to SXSW is the most economically or environmentally sensible way to get reusable tote bags, but it is by far the coolest. This draw string bag was stuffed with other random promotional nonsense, like a t-shirt and a DVD, and one was handed to every person who came into the Village Voice Media day show at La Zona Rosa. The line up was Health, The Cribs, The Black Keys, The Soundtrack of Our Lives, and ... And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. I'll save my review of the show for another day. But the bag is great. Truly ingenious baggers will even use the exterior pocket.

Like the SXSW tote, procuring this tote was neither economical nor green. But that's where the parallels between SXSW and The International Quilt Festival in Chicago come to an abrupt end. This gusseted tote was filled with class schedules and the official IQF/Chicago 2008 pin, not babydoll t-shirts and R-rated DVDs. The line up was Kathy Kansier's Quilts With Great Edges, Wendy Butler Berns' Unabashed Free-Motion Quilting/Specialty Threads, Sue Nickels' The Scalloped Edge, John Flynn's Confessions of a Non-Traditional Quilter, Diane Ricks' Microwave Dyeing for Cotton, and Susan Purney Mark's Stamp it Up. I'll save my review of the show for another day. But the bag is great. With that gusset it expands to hold quite a bit. And it lends me some street cred when I bring it to quilt guild meetings.

So I guess the moral to my story is: use what you have. If you go to events like this, take the free tote and ask other folks who are poo-pooing their totes (quite common at SXSW, NOT common at IQF), if you might have theirs. You don't need a ton. These four bags almost always suffice to carry my weekly groceries for two. Especially if you don't bother bagging well-contained things like milk, potatoes, and chips.

If you don't go to functions with freebies and you're goal is to reuse, start at the beginning: buy a used reusable bag. Get thee to Salvation Army or Goodwill. If your place of work hosts events with tote bag give aways, ask what they do with the leftovers. And if you do go the etsy route to support indy crafters, buy a reusable bag made from recycled materials, like monkeylandoriginals bag made from grocery bags and old sheets, or sewinspired bags made from t-shirts.

If you do choose to purchase a new reusable shopping bag, I would be remiss if I failed to refer you to Not Martha as she has obsessed over them like no blogger I know. Additionally, check out the plain canvas totes available from Dharma Trading Company. The prices are quite reasonable (some under $5) and the company is eco-conscious.

If you're super crafty, you could make your own reusable shopping bag. Molly over at the Purl Bee has an excellent tutorial on how to make what she calls an apple picking bag, but it would be perfect for a grocery tote.

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Thalia said...

"Like the SXSW tote, procuring this tote was neither economical nor green. But that's where the parallels between SXSW and The International Quilt Festival in Chicago come to an abrupt end."

hee hee hee hee! :)

Indeed, as we are also a dog household, those beloved no-holes plastic bags are always useful, and hopefully on hand. I need to look for a bio-friendly alternative to the straight-up #2 plastic bags for that purpose.

Otherwise, excellent post on those grocery tote bags. I love the fact that you are getting noticed for SxSW and quilting when you buy your groceries.

And I miss Bloomingfoods. Le sigh.

Thalia said...

p.s. also started working on an open net tote bag for shopping out of cotton yarn... I'm going to try to work through it, but this cotton is inelastic, and a pain in the ass to knit with (compared to wool, that wonder-fiber), and hurts my hands sometimes. And the links you posted to the crocheted or fused re-made plastic bags are amazing!

Anonymous said...

With plastic bags taking over 500 years to photodegrade, each time we can reuse or switch to alternate products is a benefit to our environment.

There are some cool shopping bags available now made from all sorts of materials. It is great that new cottage industries are also springing up.

We like TuckerBags range of products for their strength and fashionable styles.