The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
February 1, 2013

Beware the Reusable Bag Monster

We’ve all heard of the Bag Monster — that scary mountain of disposable plastic bags that accumulate in cupboards and closets–or worse, blow down the streets and into waterways and threaten wildlife.

Green_Festival_2009-11-13_002

I tried on the ChicoBag Bag Monster costume at SF Green Festival in 2009.

But have you encountered the Reusable Bag Monster?  Witness the one in my kitchen:

Reusable-Bag-Monster

Good lord!  How many reusable bags do two people actually need?

Apparently, I am not alone.  My friend Amber Strocel has blogged about having too many reusable bags.  And in her post, she links to others in the same situation.  Reusable bags have become the swag du jour at many events.  Some of them are so cheap that companies buy them and hand them out like disposable bags.  Usually, the give-away bags are not cotton, like the ones in my growing collection, but cheap non-woven polypropylene bags that look like cloth but are actually plastic.

Reusable Bags are not magic

It seems like some companies think that just providing a reusable bag with their product will suddenly make the product “green.”  Here’s a recent example:  When my employer asked me to order a new computer monitor, I chose Lenovo because their monitors are all certified GOLD by EPEAT, an organization that rates and ranks electronics by their environmental impact. So when I opened the box, I was shocked to find mostly a whole lot of Styrofoam and plastic packaging.  Ironically, the monitor itself, tucked into all that Styrofoam, was covered with a reusable bag that read, “Going green with Lenovo.”

“Oh!” I shouted, slapping my forehead.  “That’s why it’s green.  Because it comes with a reusable bag!”

Lenovo-packaging
A reusable bag is not green in and of itself.  It doesn’t magically counteract the impact of Styrofoam just because it’s added to the package.  it isn’t green lying in a pile of other unused reusable bags.  Reusable bags require materials and energy to manufacture, and just like anything else, are only green if they take the place of disposable bags.  Many disposable bags.  Which means, we not only have to remember to bring them with us whenever we go out, but we should resist the urge to accumulate more of them.  The person with the most reusable bags does not win.

I like to carry a couple of ChicoBags with me in my purse because they stuff up very small, so I am never without a reusable bag, no matter where I find myself.  And I carry several canvas bags when I am going on a planned grocery shopping trip or to the farmers market.  Some people keep a few in their car.  I don’t have a car, so I just have to remember them.

What to do with Extra reusable bags

Michael carries extra bags with him and offers them to people in line at the checkout counter who don’t have a bag.  He says, “Here, would you like one of these?  Just please remember to bring it back with you and use it again.”  There are still a lot of people who don’t have their own reusable bags.

We can also offer them on sites like Yerdle, Freecycle, Craigslist, or use them to drop off unwanted items at thrift stores.

My goal is to reduce that pile to only the number of bags we will actually use, and to USE THEM!   What ideas do you have for remembering to bring your bags and for spreading the wealth if you have too many?

83 comments
Cassidy Noble
Cassidy Noble

ChicoBag, the company where I work, will take any and all reusable bags as part of our zero-waste program. We've partnered with the Grateful Thread to have them repurposed into rugs! We don't ever want to see a reusable shopping bag make it into a landfill.

Please send your worn-out or unused bags to:

ChicoEco dba. ChicoBag
Attn: Zero Waste
13434 Browns Valley Dr.
Chico, CA 95973

PS- Though our bags are technically "plastic", many are made from recycled plastic bottles (rePETe material), not virgin poly material. Our bags also stuff down to a small pouch, making them easy to store and to remember to use. No bag monster!

urbanwoodswalker
urbanwoodswalker

A topic close to my heart.  I have way too many myself!  And the ones that are near the check out...those cheap 99 cent ones that feel like cloth and are not....or those flimsy plastic ones (with all the cool graphics) that sell for $1.99 lure us like moths to a flame...don't they?  Ahhh, then there are the cloth bags...sturdy...and wonderful.    They all reside in my home, my car, everywhere and I have too many.

I love the idea of giving them away.  I love the idea of maybe starting a "free" pile at my local library.  Or the senior center. 

I have a lovely looking t-shirt bag...but I don't care for it as much as the more rigid styles of canvas bags.  

Uses for those pesky cheap but enormous plastic "reUseable bags:  They are great for giving oversized gifts in.  And there will not be any waste.    They are great for donating clothes and other goods to the thrift store.  Use em to bring recyclables to the bin, or the center.

You can even get through one growing season using the bags as planting "pots"...just fill with soil, and your plant.  Really works well on a balcony garden, and less waste then all those pots, less to store away in winter.  


NutItOut
NutItOut

I love my t-shirt bags. I keep a bag of bags for when I plan on going shopping for larger amounts. Usually it's just the 2 in my handbag that get used. They are always at hand while I'm out for that passing purchase and take up very little room near my hankies. I don't mind if I have to give one away as I can make more but that doesn't happen often. When I come home I empty them and put 2 straight back in my handbag, unless needing a wash and I'll replace from the bag bag. I love the stretchy comfort of a t-shirt or jumper bag on my shoulder rather than holding handles. They are surprisingly strong and soft. There is no shortage of used t-shirts either if I ever need more. I am going to make some newborn nappies/diapers out of some t-shirts as my daughter is expecting a second child this year. Her 16month old wears cloth and loves playing with the bags, and can't choke on them.

LauraSpence1
LauraSpence1

Dear Terri, I requested your book from my local library and received it recently though I was saddened my the packaging.  They put a plastic book cover on it because of the spine I think.  I was so happy to finally receive it since I live all the way in Columbia, SC.  I just thought I would let you know and I have been reading your book for the last couple of days.  We use reusable bags, it's hard to get my daughter to reuse things for her lunch but we have eliminated most of the plastic in the house I am finding it everywhere! We recycle, reuse and everything but I do need to work on reducing and may be buying some new dishes from mylifewithoutplastic.com which is such a great site! If you could put a link to it on your site too that would be great if you haven't already.  Thanks for writing the book

Laura S in South Carolina

Sistahoodz
Sistahoodz

when I shop, I usually buy a spare cloth bag every few visits to the stores. Then when I have to ship a parcel, I put whatever in one of those lovely useful reuseable bags and ship the completed sweaters in them, well taped ... the tape removes completely, I've saved a box and the recipient not only gets a lovely sweater, but a bag from here to remind them of how thoughtful we are at Sistahoodz ~Sourceress Christina

MaryHolm1
MaryHolm1

I have placed a reusable bag full of reusable bags in each of my cars.  Whenever I am shopping, I always have them.  No more leaving them at home.  Also, our local animal shelter has a resale shop and gives them out to customers, they are donated...a good way to get rid of excess reusable bags!

shelleyshell
shelleyshell

Hi.  I too have accumulated many many cloth bags since I began to use them more than 20 years ago.  For the past couple of years, I have given out cloth bags at Halloween to kids who were using plastic grocery bags as their shell-out bag.  This has reduced my supply and helped kids get their loot home without the bags tearing apart.  I also keep some bags in the car, some in the truck, some in the house and one in my purse/carry bag.  I also sew cloth gift bags and we have had a garbage-less (Christmas wrapper-less) Christmas for about 23 years now.  Every gift that I give is in a reusable bag, probably that I sewed.  Most people will re-use the bags for gift giving so bag by bag, it's making a difference.

ChicoBag
ChicoBag

Reusable bags sometimes wear out, but we don't want to see them in the landfill when they do. We have an active repurposing and recycling program for all brands and types of reusable bags. ChicoBag® doesn't want ANY reusable bag to be left in a dark closet or sent to a landfill. Send us all of your tired masses of reusable bags, functional or not. We will distribute them to fixed and low income families ready to start a reusable bag habit or recycle them into new useful products through partnerships with artists, crafters and non-profit organizations. It's simple, put your old reusable bag in a package and mail it to: ChicoBag Company c/o Zero Waste Program 13434 Browns Valley Drive Chico, CA 95973 We are always looking for partners. Please let us know who you think would benefit from our repurposing program at takeaction@chicobag.com.

Liza Kirwan
Liza Kirwan

Putting them back in the car is one way and actively being mindful and remembering to bring them into the shop is the next thing. Focusing on the bag game until it becomes habit! :-)

jonnie
jonnie

This speaks to a larger issue, one I have at least, with using reusables, etc.: clutter. I have yet to figure out the *exact* number of bags, bottles, jars, etc. I need, so I'm constantly collecting/looking for the right kind for everything we use. For example, there's the *best* jar for honey vs tamari vs oil... so forth. Working on it, but still feels cluttered!

Any thoughts?

Jen @ Go Green
Jen @ Go Green

I have found I have been able to keep my stash at a minimum by saying no when I am offered a reusable bag (unless it is really cool and awesome). I always have at least one on me so that really helps. Love the freecycle idea for getting rid of any extras!

LindseyElisePetersonPope
LindseyElisePetersonPope

My local food co-op has signs in the parking lot that read "A bag in the hand is worth two in the car!" and a bin inside for donating excess reusable bags to anyone who's forgotten to bring their own.

Kathryn Grace
Kathryn Grace

I like Chico bags for this reason. I almost always have one clipped to my purse and another in my shoulder bag. There's always Freecycle if you have too many. You could also give a few to Domestic Violence shelters to give to the families starting over with absolutely nothing.

Envision Planning Services L.L.C.
Envision Planning Services L.L.C.

Some of our local markets have placed signs in the parking lots "Did you remember your re-usable bags," and that has really helped me. A nice thing to encourage other markets to try!

Jess Carrier
Jess Carrier

Buy the reuseable bags that roll up small and fit in my handbag - that's the only way I can remember to take them into the supermarket! Before I got them I would always forget.

EMarieNYC
EMarieNYC

This is a wonderful blog! Just found it! One thing I do with my bags when they pile up (reusable or not) is bring them to work. I work in a public library. We sell reusable bags, but patrons don't always want another or want to pay for them. We get a lot of children patrons. So sometimes we bring in bags to give them if they have a lot of books or if it is raining. They always disappear. I live in a studio apartment and have both a reusable bag collection and a pile of awful plastic bags to recycle as well. I try to carry my reusables, but end up forgetting them when I switch out purses, gymbags, etc. I usually don't anticipate a trip to shop... but as you know, it's best to be prepared.

Parastoo Parsa
Parastoo Parsa

I have a fix number of bags. keep them in my car and wash them once a week with my laundry. I do shopping once a week only. So it is easy. It means i always go armed with my list , empty milk glasses. jars, Pyrex containers for meat and bags. But if i ever need something fast and my bags are in the laundry, i just ask for paper( if i buy a lot and have to have a bag) The paper gets recycled. But my husband still has to master the bag refusal art :)

Sara
Sara

I run a local Food Bank, I take all my extra bags there to hand out to clients...we do not supply plastic bags (which we were doing before I took over). Instead a client can take a reusable bag or a box (the boxes are left from the food we order, or received with donated food inside). I also solicit bag donations. Our 'Much Needed' list that is distributed through the community and to each group doing a Food Drive, includes reusable bags.  Each bag has a note stapled into it that asks the person to return it to the Food Bank in one of our many convenient community collection bins. We don't get too many back, but we do get some and some people who need the Food Bank more frequently will bring the same bags back for reuse.  We also mention on our phone system that people should bring a back-pack or reusable bag...but since many people come word of mouth, we still get a lot of people without bags...and of course some people may not have anything to bring.

Lorelei Richards Lowe
Lorelei Richards Lowe

I have many bags too... I have a drawer in my kitchen full of them. I try to keep some in my car, my purse and even have a bag next to my purse in the house with a few extras and small cotton produce bags that I try and remember when I go out. My hope is that between all the options I will have bags with me when I need them. As for the drawer in my kitchen, the re-usable bags have become very useful when I am giving stuff to people, collecting items to give to a thrift store, or when I head out and need something to put my items such as lunch, snacks or kids items into. Oh, and they are great when I go to potluck dinner and put all the food into them. They definitely get used and really come in handy! Gone are the days of a collection of plastic bags in the house and hello to the collection of re-usable grocery style bags :o)

Jenel Hazlett
Jenel Hazlett

I have a small bag that zips flat that I keep in my purse for small trips. I have a bag of bags that I keep behind the drivers seat. Remembering to take them into the store is not the isssue. What took a long time was to get the muscle memory in place to ensure that I got the bags BACK to the truck. These ecobags helped alot because they pack down so small. http://www.ecobags.com/Tropical-Assortment-Long-Handle_2

Peter Harrison
Peter Harrison

keep in the car......nearly always use a vehicle for significant shopping trips. And my wife has a medium one folded in her handbag.....so it goes everywhere. And just carry out smaller items - no bag at all.

Kathy Custer
Kathy Custer

I hang them on the doorknob so I remember to take them out to my car the next time I leave the apartment

Gnor Log
Gnor Log

Keep them in my bag, in my other bag, in my car, on my bike. I definate;y have bag buying issues and bag monsters!

Taylor Pfaff Youngblood
Taylor Pfaff Youngblood

I have a bag of bags. They live in the trunk and if they come in the house they go on the door knob so I can't leave without taking them back to the trunk.

Flip Logic
Flip Logic

Leave some in your car, or bicycle basket/backpack, or a drawer next to the front door. Or, like in the picture, hand them on a coat rack for visibility. One way or another, make sure you can't leave them behind. You make sure you have money before you go, right? Just practice making it a habit of getting money AND the bags on the way out the door or into the store. When you bring them home, empty them, then don't stick them to the side, put them back where they belong. Rinse and repeat - if you don't want to carry them all the way to the car after emptying them, find a place to put them near the door that you won't forget. Ultimately, if you leave it up to your memory,it won't work. My calendar is tacked to my front door, so I can't possibly head out without remembering what I'm leaving the house to do, use a similar method

debrabaida
debrabaida

Beth! I wrote about our herd of reusable bags a few months ago (http://liberatedspaces.wordpress.com/2012/10/27/bag-habits/) Amazing how they accumulate, but strangely, we use them all!

 

I now pack some of the lesser used bags in the car for hauling away client donations. And when reusable bags are no longer wanted by clients, I take them to one of two nonprofits – Homeless Prenatal Program and SCRAP – as they are given away for free to people who want and need them.

 

For a short time, one of the local independent grocery stores was encouraging folks to leave reusables they don't want for those who might need one to take for free. I think the deficit of space was an issue and that program attempt was aborted.

 

All that said, there's power in just saying "no" when you really don't need another!

Caitlin J Willis
Caitlin J Willis

Yesterday, my unsuspecting purse held 3 kiwis, a bottle of olive oil, a pineapple and a chocolate bar. When in doubt, make use of a big purse!

Jessie Hammer
Jessie Hammer

I always forgot my bags for smaller last minute shopping trips until I discovered the little foldable bags, like Chico Bags. Unfortunately, they're made of polyester, so there's an issue there. But I remember to use them since I always have them in my purse. I've discovered I have to learn to pick my battles, & being a plastic-free purist just didn't work for me since I'm forgetful. They come in handy whenever I need to carry multiple items too, not just when I'm shopping. I wash them each time I use them, so having a collection is actually helpful. (It doesn't create an extra load of laundry since they're so small, I just throw them in with my dish towels once a week.) Plus, I tend to give them away occasionally, and have managed to convert people over to reusables since they're so convenient. For big grocery shopping tips, I have one of the big non-foldable bags filled with reusable produce bags, and reusable foldables, & a couple of reused jars for bulk items. It's become an automatic thing to grab when I walk to the store.

Sabina Lucia
Sabina Lucia

Have quite a few of the little pouch fold away reusable bags ala Greener upon Thames. They are much easier to always have a few in your hand bag/glove compartment/pocket and are so light and don't take up much room. I find the bigger ones take more of an effort to remember to have on you.

Sherry Samson
Sherry Samson

Leave the bags in car. If you go into store and forget them in the car, walk back to car and get them. Easy.

Laura Lovitt Pandapas
Laura Lovitt Pandapas

i alternate between my big canvas tote bags, and actually taking paper bags from the store. the paper bags are used again in my kitchen garbage can as a liner instead of plastic. i feel like it's a good balance. and i never, ever take a plastic bag from a retailer. ever.

Michael Smithingtonsworthly
Michael Smithingtonsworthly

Whenever I would forget my reusable bags, my punishment would be either going home and getting them or having to carry all my stuff. Pretty soon you remember your bags. I also try to keep a few at my desk at work and in the car just to make sure all my bases are covered.

robertbluesman
robertbluesman

great post! please include an update reminder to occasionally launder the cotton ones, and wipe down the non-cottons with antiseptic, thanks.

Jennifer Mo
Jennifer Mo

I always have two Envirosax that roll up very small and fit into my purse. Then I have a couple in the trunk of my car in case I've been lazy and neglected to put my Envirosax back in my purse after using them. I'm at a good number of reusables now, but when SJ's bag law first kicked in, I used to bring an extra or two to the store and give it away to someone in line who needed one.

Yael Breimer
Yael Breimer

I don't own a car and had bags before. Then I bought a nice granny style shopping cart (the fabric kind). So no need for bags, all goes in the cart and wheels right back home.

Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor
Jennifer Wagner-Lawlor

I have a closet space that looks just like that! Even worse is, whenever I forget to bring a bag, I "punish" myself by buying new ones to carry my stuff home. Then I hide them in my study closet, so my husband doesn't see that I bought even more of them.

AutumnDann
AutumnDann

i got a giant beautiful canvas bag 20 years ago from the j peterman catalog. it holds all my food at once every week. its prob half worn out and i guess i'll stop shopping once its gone because there will be no other.

Condo Blues
Condo Blues

A friend and I  joke you have hit the limit on reusable shopping bags only when the trunk of your car is so full with them you can't add another :) But seriously, I get a set in my car trunk and use them for everything from purchases to libaray books to organizing items (sports stuff, jumper cables, etc.) in my car trunk. If I end up with the recycled plastic bottle fabric kind, I keep them on hand to give to people who want them and don't have them. I am also experimenting with cutting them up and using them as interfacing when sewing.

Brandy Engman Rucker
Brandy Engman Rucker

I put them all in my larger insulated bag and hang them on the doorknob. That its the only way I remember to put them back in my car.

Shannon Adolph
Shannon Adolph

I leave them in my trunk. When the groceries are taken out, I take them back outside again. To keep them organized, I put all of them inside one bag. That also makes it easier to bring them into the store.

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator
Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator moderator

@Cassidy Noble Thanks for the info Cassidy. Now I know where I can retire my trusty Chico bag that I've had all these years. My handle started to tear recently and I'm going to try and sew it first. But it's nice to know we can retire our bags to be re-purposed into some new. 

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

@Cassidy Noble Yes!  In fact, I mentioned the Chico Bag take-back program in my book!

Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator
Plastic-Free Ericka Moderator moderator

@NutItOut   Hooray for t-shirt bags! I love them too and only recently acquired one. I also always carry my one chico bag which has been with me for four years now.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

 @LauraSpence1 Oh, one other thing... the URL is lifewithoutplastic.com (without "my").  Just in case anyone reading this wants to check them out.

BethTerry
BethTerry moderator

 @LauraSpence1 Hi Laura.  Yes, all the libraries are covering the book with plastic. I appreciate the need to protect the book, but I wish there were a greener alternative material.  I wrote about this very topic when I first found out about the plastic covers:  http://myplasticfreelife.com/2012/06/when-a-plastic-free-book-is-covered-in-plastic/

 

Life Without Plastic is a fantastic company!  As you read the book, you will discover that I profiled the owners on Pages 142-143.

bevcat5
bevcat5

@MaryHolm1 that's what I do also!  I fold up my bags, roll them, and hold them with rubber bands and/or hair ties to keep them small, and have a bag full of them in the back seat of my car.  Unfortunately, most of my bags are not washable, so I'm now in process of switching them out for washable bags.  I have to have long handles so I can carry the bags over my shoulders.  :)

EcoCatLady
EcoCatLady

I don't have a brilliant solution, but I have a similar issue with jars and other food storage containers. I garden in the summer and then freeze the surplus for use throughout the year. So I have a big collection of mason jars as well as Pyrex and stainless steel containers for freezing.

 

Problem is that when the freezer is full I have a devil of a time finding a free jar or container for anything, but as I eat through the year's harvest I end up with so many containers that there's no place to put them all! For the moment I've reserved an entire shelf in the basement storage room just for jars & other freezer containers, and it helps - but there's still more schlepping of containers up and down the stairs than I would like.