We all know by now that when we're at the grocery store and they ask "paper or plastic?" we reply with an enthusiastic, "I've brought my own Dancing Threads RI bags!" Just kidding. By looking around at fellow shoppers, it seems that people are getting the hang of bringing reusable totes to the grocery store.
Today I wanted to share my thoughts on why not all reusable bags are created equally.
Here are some of the bags I still use regularly, even though I'm in the process of switching to all Dancing Threads RI bags. I'm not about to get rid of something that still works perfectly well.
Some are made from plastic. While you're not using a store's disposable bag once and then recycling it (or throwing it out! Some statistics show that only a small percentage of plastic bags get recycled or reused), the plastic reusable bag has a relatively short life span. Look what happens after a few heavy duty grocery store trips.
They also do not wash well. Please tell me you wash your reusable bags! I toss all of mine into a cold cycle about once a month. Mine go everywhere, not just to the grocery store, and they can get funky. I've even had a cashier refuse to put my items in my bag claiming that people's reusable bags are "too germy." I guess not everyone washes them as frequently as I do.
The above type of bag is reusable, adorable, a handy size, but still made of plastic. What happens when it has started falling apart? Some places will recycle them, but I'm going to take a wild guess that most people throw them out.
This is a bag I thought would last a really long time when I bought it. It has a canvas exterior and handles, but the inside is coated with plastic.
Look what happened after a few too many washes...Those bits of plastic were flaking onto my groceries when I noticed the breakdown. This bag never went into the dryer, this is purely from cold cycle washing and line drying.
Here is a Chico Bag I bought several years ago. It has served me well, but it has its own issues. All the Chico Bags are currently made in China, and the nylon fabric is technically another form of plastic.
This happened after a few too many washes. Chico will take back old bags for recycling, which I think is great! But I also think there could be sturdier construction that allows the bag to last more than a couple of years.
Here's a bag I've had since I was a kid. It was one of those mail-in coupon deals where you save so many UPC codes and they mail you a free gift. Free personalization--how early 80's. The personalization is a bit weird in a sore as a grown adult, but it works so I keep it. It has held more items than I can count in its 30+ year lifespan. Why has it lasted so long? Because it's made from cotton. Not recycled plastic. Not plastic-coated canvas. It has been machine-washed countless times. And it's still going strong. Which brings me to why I make and sell the types of bags you find at Dancing Threads RI.
My grocery bag is a lot like the Chico bag. But, it's lined, reversible, and the handles have two layers. Here is a post about how much it will easily carry. Each seam is doubly reinforced, so it's so very much stronger than the Chico. I licensed a pattern from a talented designer, Michelle Patterns, because this bag has everything I was looking for in a reusable shopping bag. So far I have only been using my bag for a year, but it looks as new as the day I made it.
And I use it every. single. day. Grocery store. CVS. Library books. Supplies from Michaels. Fabric from Joann. Play date supplies. Knitting projects. Thrift store finds. Souvenirs. Soap from Lush. Washers and screws at Home Depot. Labels at Staples. Takeout food. 30 packs of on-sale crayons for making crayon rolls. Small furniture from Ikea. Garden seeds. The list really is endless.
Which brings me to this tote. This one technically uses plastic in the PUL waterproof lining, but it's a far sturdier version of plastic. This will last a long time. Mine has been in use as a farmer's market/CSA/grocery/beach bag at least twice a week for over a year. I fill it to the gills each time. It is regularly filled not with paper towels, but canned goods, half gallons of milk, and whole watermelons. At the same time! Despite some staining from beets on a CSA pickup or two, it looks great for all the abuse I give it.
Old reliable. I'm working on a way to take back old bags for recycling. Since my bags are all still quite new, having been in business less than 2 years, I don't think it will be an issue for a while. Know that I'm not ok with my bags ending up in a landfill, and will have some sort of working solution over the next year.
Any reusable bag is better than a disposable bag from a store, but take a minute to think about your reusable bags. What are they made from? What can you do with them after they have outlived their usefulness?
As co-owner of Stitchery in Portsmouth, RI, I teach sewing classes to children and adults. Welcome to my blog Dancing Threads RI.