Here’s What to Do with All Your Reusable Shopping Bags

published Dec 18, 2017
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Jelena Jojic Tomic/Stocksy)

I have to say, whenever I remember to bring my reusable shopping bags to the grocery store or farmers market, I feel like I am just about saving the world. I make a big fuss out of telling the cashier that I have them and wait eagerly for a verbal pat on the back for being such a stellar citizen (although I typically get a response along the lines of okay). The whole way home, I feel super proud of myself. And how often, as an adult, do you really get to feel that way?

Here’s the thing: Even though reusable bags are multi-use, and often made of recycled fabric, they are usually not recyclable. Even if your county takes the particular kind of plastic they’re made of, the flimsy material still might not be recyclable there, so be sure to check first. And some studies say that it takes 100 uses of one of those reusable bags to offset the amount of energy it takes to manufacture them beyond a regular, non-reusable plastic bag. So your first plan of attack should be to use your bags as many times as possible to make the bag worth its while!

Here’s another thing: Sometimes the reusable shopping bags multiply. You forget them one time, and buy another set. Someone brings over food or hand-me-downs, and you’ve got another. They seem to hand them out like candy at work events, as the hip eco alternative to a paper gift bags. And all of a sudden that tote full of totes has become a bin full of totes, which is really too many totes for most people. So what to do when you’ve got too many totes, or the totes you have are … uh, toast? Here are some options.

Just make sure your totes are clean: Your Reusable Grocery Bags Could Make You Seriously Sick

1. Think beyond the grocery store.

Although many of us are getting into the habit of bringing our bags to the grocery store, they work for just about anything you’re buying. While we tend not to think of these reusable bags for trips to the mall, the only reason not to bring them is the chance of losing the cache of walking out of the department store with the appropriately sized brown bag. But really, who cares? Try always carrying one or two smaller totes in your purse for any kind of shopping trip. Some retailers, like Target and Walmart, may even give you a discount.

2. Reuse them around the home.

Before you buy another basket or box for a closet, consider a bag first. I used a bunch of totes to store off-season clothing on a high closet shelf. They’re easy to smash into the space and to pull out by the handles, they’re handy when you’re sorting clothes within a bigger storage bin, and they slide easily under the bed when full of junk.

3. Give them to someone in need.

Many food pantries and thrift stores accept these bags for their patrons to use. Similarly, libraries and preschools can often use them. You can also consider offering them on Freecycle or just setting them on the curb with a “free” sign — someone will want them!

4. Send them off for recycling.

This is cool: ChicoBag, which makes reusable totes of the kind we’re discussing here, will also take boxes of your extra reusable bags (from any brand) and re-home them as part of their Pay It Forward program. If the bags are still good, they’ll send them to fixed- or low-income families that can’t afford their own reusable bags. If the bags are shot, they’ll send them to an artist, crafter, or nonprofit organization they’ve partnered with to turn them into something new.

5. Stop the accumulation.

As they say, “an ounce of prevention … ” Try not to let too many new reusable bags into your home. Do whatever it takes to remember to bring them to the store (tie them to your purse or doorknob, place them on the floor in front of the front door, or set a calendar reminder) so you don’t have to buy a new one. Say no if you’re offered a freebie at the street fair. If you can stem the tide and use what you have, you’ll come closer to getting your 100 uses out of the ones you love the best.

What do you do with all the reusable grocery bags you’ve accumulated?