Sustainable Saturday - What's in your reusable bag?

I have many reusable bags.  They vary from freebies, bags purchased at a store (Grocery, Target, etc.) or received as a gift (Envirosax).  I use them faithfully and constantly am moving them from the house to the car, making sure there are some in each of our vehicles.  For awhile I even carried one in my purse and diaper bag.  We use them at the grocery store, the drug store and even at the mall.

I was recently at a new store in my town that specializes in green products.  They had quite a selection of primarily Envirosax in their store and it made me wonder, how green are these bags really?  How much are people willing to pay for them?  Do people actually remember to use them faithfully to truly reduce their plastic bag consumption?  If you're not keeping them clean, choosing sustainable materials, or finding smaller sizes for produce, then you might not be making as much of an impact as you think.

Here are 6 Ways to Make Reusable Bags Work for You courtesy of  plant green:

1. Choose Your Materials Carefully

If you're on a mission to give up plastic bags, then shouldn't you make sure that your replacement totes are made from sustainable materials? Reusing the plastic bags you already have at home is one solution; also, look for bags made from recycled plastic, organic cotton, hemp, or even polyester or polypropylene (as Pablo pointed out on TreeHugger, the difference in the impacts of canvas, polyester, and polyproylene are minimal compared to the positive difference they make compared to plastic). And make sure you find a grocery tote that's durable enough to haul home all your food on trip after trip—so you don't wind up needing to replace them after just a few uses.

2. Make Your Own

Even better than buying new, try your hand at refashioning materials you already have at home into carryalls with a one-of-a-kind look. From ridiculously simple solutions, like using a pillowcase as a bag, to patterns that require a bit more sewing (like turning an old tank top into a tote), there are dozens of ways to DIY your own bags. Bonus: you'll be upcycling instead of recycling, saving carbon—and money—at the same time.

3. Keep them Safe

Make cleaning your bags part of your regular housekeeping routine to prevent mold, yeast, and bateria from building their own little homes in your foodspace with a few simple tips: bring bins or boxes to keep milk, frozen foods, and dairy from getting your bags wet; keep meat and fish apart from your fresh fruits and veggies to prevent cross-contamination; and wash or rinse your bags when you get home. It's also important to make sure the bags dry completely, since the dark, moist insides are a favorite spot for germs to breed.

If you want to read more about a study that was done by Sporometric's, "the foremost experts in many aspects of fungal and environmental bacterial testing in Canada", you can check out treehugger's Greenwash Watch: "Reusable Bags are a Health Threat"

The study concluded:

  • The moist, dark, warm interior of a folded used reusable bag that has acquired a small amount of water and trace food contamination is an ideal incubator for bacteria. 
  • The strong presence of yeasts in some bags indicates the presence of water and microbial growth substrate (food). The yeasts are thus a 'canary in the mine' confirming that microbes are growing in the bag.
  • There is a potential for cross-contamination of food if the same reusable bags are used on successive trips.
  • In cases of food poisoning, experts are now going to have to test reusable bags in addition to food products as the possible sources of contamination.

4. Remember the Produce

Bringing a canvas, hemp, cotton, or recycled plastic bag to the store and then filling it with fruits and veggies in their own individual plastic bags isn't exactly a perfect solution. The easiest alternative? Don't bag your fruits at all; unless you're buying huge quantities, it's not difficult to run them across the scanner one at a time. And if you really need to keep your apples, lemons, onions, and peppers separate, then use old sports jerseys to make produce bags; the mesh lets air circulate while protecting delicate produce.

OR try Buying 'Naked' in a Grocery Store with Zero Packaging courtesy of planet green.  Basically skip the produce bags and put the produce directly in your cart . . . you're going to wash it anyways!

You can read the rest of the article here.


Diane Curtis said...

I love my reusable bags. They're so much stronger than regular plastic or paper. Also, I find I always remember them for the Markets but often forget if I just swing by Kroger. Anyway, the cleaning part totally grossed me out, so all of our bags are being washed today. :)

Symhome mom said...

I know, it is really gross!