The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

December 1, 2011

Please Help My Dad — Your Reusable Bag Suggestions Requested

I spent Thanksgiving week in Maryland with my family.

Here’s a picture of my dad. He has questions.

Raymond J. Terry Hawaii 2006

(Okay, that photo was taken in Hawaii in 2006 — not Maryland in 2011. But it’s nice, isn’t it?)

So we were at the local Giant Foods grocery store last week, and after I whipped out my handy ChicoBag reusable bags from my purse, the cashier said she thought Maryland was going to start charging a fee for plastic bags, similar to the fee in effect in Washington D.C.  Turns out she was almost right.  Prince George’s County (where my dad lives) wants to impose a bag fee but must get authorization from the State General Assembly.  There will be a hearing this Saturday.

When we got home from the store, my dad looked at my ChicoBags and asked, “So I would need to get twenty of those to replace the twenty plastic bags I bring home from the store?”

I explained that reusable bags are stronger than disposable plastic bags, so they can carry more and you don’t need to use as many.  I’m thinking of sending him a reusable bag starter kit for Christmas this year, so he can try making the switch, whether PG County’s bag fee goes through or not.   I’d like to give him a variety of styles to try out.

This is where you come in.  What advice do you have for my dad for creating a simple reusable bag system?  What are your favorite brands/styles of reusable bags?  I’d especially love to hear from the male readers.  I carry about three ChicoBags in my purse at all times so I’m never without a bag, but my dad doesn’t carry a purse.  He would need to remember to put the bags back in the car or maybe near his car keys after he empties them each time.

My dad has taught me a ton of stuff.   How to solder wires together.   How to merge onto the freeway with confidence.   Why you should always finish a full course of antibiotics instead of stopping when you start to feel better.  And how to belch loudly at will.   Will you please help me help him?


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3 years ago

I keep a cooler-bag in the back of my car which I put into the cart at the door to the store. It’s a great shopping bag, and if I buy ice cream, milk, other refrigerated items, I put them right in the cooler bag as I shop. I get comments on how sensible that is from both men and women. If I forget bags, I usually have left them in the car… even if not, I put things back into the cart, into the trunk, and if I need something, I grab a box or bag when I get home for unloading. Less complicated than it sounds.

11 years ago

Walmart sells some stuff bags near the register with clips that are very handy to clip to your keys. it would be a good way for your dad to remember his bags, if he lays or hangs his keys near the door when he comes in.

Allison Dey
11 years ago

I use 3-4 large tote bags with boxed bottoms. The groceries fit better, I can carry one over each shoulder and one in each hand. These replace 15-20 plastic bags that often only get 4-5 items put in before a new bag is packed by the grocer.

Cynthia in Denver
11 years ago

My husband is a bit of tree hugger himself, so no problem getting him to use his own bags (he’s better at remembering to bring them to the store than I am).

I did take a sewing class and made a reusable bag for him! That must be your solution for dear dad. If his daughter MADE him a reusable bag (or more) he cannot help but use them! Like the macaroni made necklace we made as children.

Robbie @ Going Green Mama
11 years ago

One thing I hadn’t seen on here is what he’s willing to carry. That can be a big differentiator. If you need to worry about size/weight because of his physical capabilities that needs to be considered too!

11 years ago

Not a car person, but I have been in the past, and keeping a few bags in the backseat was always a good reminder to get the rest for big trips.

My partner, who uses the bags as an indulgence for me, keeps a Chico bag (free from a green expo of some sort, has a legal office screen printed on it) in the glove box. I link another on my keychain for shopping that isn’t groceries, like crafts or gift shopping.
It helps to be a fan of pockets for that.

A Chico realistically carries 15 pounds, although the max is 20, as stated on the web site. I am noticing stretched seams on my oldest bags (4 years).
I’d not trust those few for glass jars. They are my leafy produce bags now.
A couple canvas bags for glass containers and a few lighter weight bags can get your dad started, I think.
The most bags I ever used was seven in one trip, but again, not with a car.
When I borrow my partners car, I often pop a cardboard box in the back, unload a few bags after store one, and reuse the bags straight away.

11 years ago

Here in germany there are many folded bags you can buy at the stores. Most of them are so small, you can carry them at your keychain.
For my wedding I gave this ones as a pesent for our guests:
so all of our family now use them.
I take 3-4 of my strawberrys for shopping, thats enough.

Here are also many cotton bags with a nice picture of the hometown.The older people like this one very much.

11 years ago

While I am the one who insisted that we stop using plastic, my husband figured out how to ensure we never forget the bags. After coming home from the grocery store, they are folded and placed on the counter as they are emptied. Meanwhile, the trunk of the car stays open. Once all of the bags are emptied and folded, someone (normally my husband) takes them out to the car and closes the trunk. While he will still use a plastic bag, I do not. Grocery store, liquor store, department store, I carry my own bags.

mrs spock
11 years ago

We keep a 5-pack on Envirosax in the trunk in each car. One 5-pack is enough for my husband, but I have 2 5-packs, as I do the bulk of the shopping. 10 bags are sufficient enough. We throw them in with our cloth napkins to clean them and hang to dry.

Practical Parsimony
11 years ago

I get all my bags free or for a quarter from yardsales and thrift stores. The cheap paper-like ones are really too flimsy for the investment. I like the canvass bags. If he has more bags than he needs in the car, then having some there will always be an option. I forget bags and home and forget them in the car. One day, I was so disgusted at leaving the bags in the car that I told the bagger to put it all back in the cart, that I would bag them myself as I put the groceries in the car. I did! Thankfully, it has never been raining or too cold.

I have a great assortment of bags that came from schools and universities, espousing all sorts of things, some decorative, some plainish. I don’t mind the neighborhood watch bag from a nearby city or the home decorated ones.

It would be great if all cities implemented any sort of measures to help eliminate plastic bags.

11 years ago

Just a thought about the comment that he may need 20 bags per trip in addition to your advice that a reusable bag holds more, I would suggest not buying quite as much in each trip. Why? Because when we make more frequent trips to the store for food we can buy more fresh food items (vegetables and fruit) on each visit since they will be used quickly which makes for a healthier you. Also getting out to interact with others on a regular basis can be healthier for us too. We need positive human interaction to maintain a positive life attitude. So he may only need 2 or 3 bags at most and these could easily fit in his vehicle, I hope.

Benson Rivera
11 years ago

Hi! We are using canvas made and a native bag made from palm tree leaves. It’s very environmental. And you can use it for a long time. Just wash it from time to time. I’m recommending it to your dad.

11 years ago

I don’t know if he has a favorite sports team but if he does get a reusable bag that has the “Dallas Cowboys” or whatever. That way its more like he would have one of those hanging around.

11 years ago

This doesn’t solve the “how to keep them with you” problem, but it helps in the “want to have them with you” area: I have been making bags out of underused t-shirts, using my own version of this basic no-sew method:
My changes are: 1. I cut the sleeves off on the outer edge of the seam, leaving the sturdiness of the seam on the bag for the handle. 2. Then I fold the inner portion of the handle under itself, doubling it, make two small holes on either side of the top seam and tie a small strip of fabric through it. This makes the handles easier to grab and very sturdy. 3. I tend to use heavier cotton T-shirts for sturdiness, so all the ones I make end up with the “two-holes” at the bottom. But instead of using two seperate strings, I just loop one end through as it passes the second hole and tie it tight, making two small holes. The way it twists makes it so there really is no hole at the bottom of the bag. You aren’t putting loose lentils in there anyway.
This is so fun to do! I have made at least one for everyone in my family and my friends. You can ask them for a shirt they like but for some reason don’t wear, or have fun thrifting for one that fits them. My friend told me that more than one cashier has tried to scan her bag, and one told her how cool and well made it was! Did I mention there was no sewing involved?! : )

11 years ago

Although they don’t roll up into a tiny ball like ChicoBags (which I also have) I really like the denim tote bags I bought at Hobby Lobby. They’re super-sturdy and I can throw them in the washer with the jeans.

Michelle C
11 years ago

My husband complained that my reusable bags were too “girly” for him to use, so I got him some envirosax bags in the “greengrocer” series, solid colours, his are dark blue and grey. (I ordered from the envirosax Canada site.) He is using them happily. Also, he says they aren’t too long for him. He doesn’t roll them up, just puts them all inside one bag, and hangs that bag by the front door. I keep some in the glove compartment as well.

Drawbacks — they need to be handwashed, they’re expensive, and they’re plastic (nylon). On the plus side, they are holding up well, are easy to hand wash (just rinse and hang), and hold a lot. Also, pet hair doesn’t stick to them (important around here!).

11 years ago

I havent read all of the comments but here are mine. I now have more than enough bags but our system is to generally keep a few in the car and I have a few in my son’s diaper bag which is usually with me. We also keep most of them by the door. The rare time I do forget, I carry things out in the cart to my car. I will say that my favourite method for grocery shopping is my (ahem) plastic buckets with fabric handles that I purchased long before I considered the harm of plastics. They have held up really well and carry a tonne. Perhaps there is a wicker basket comparison? Bags really do better for department stores though. We have a variety of canvas, fabric , nylon-y and mesh for produce.

One important reminder: WASH your fabric bags. Now that we have an overabundance, we have a separate one for the library, one for shoes, toys etc. This is particularly important if you are storing your bags in the car where they will get hot then cold… I have heard of several studies done on the things that end up growing in your bags.

Douglas Lober
11 years ago

Great read! I am confident your Dad can pick up the reusable bag habit very easily! Send me your ups# and address I will send him a nice lil kit to get started with – On us! Thanks! reusable bags

11 years ago

Backpacks are great for grocery shopping because of all the pockets. One pocket holds wallet, keys, etc and another pocket holds extra bags. You can carry the heavy stuff in the backpack and the lighter stuff in bags.

11 years ago

My husband likes to show his manly upper body strength by loading everything into a giant cooler bag which he’s named the “body bag.” I don’t carry a purse. I have 3 ChicoBags clipped to a big key ring (and the keyring with my keys clips to it, too). The grocery store also uses extra bags to keep cleaning products separate from food. i use my own judgement there.

11 years ago

I like the chico bags and others that roll up into a ball. But my favorite new bag is my homemade Duct Tape Bag Depending on your opinions of duct tape, the bag is macho, sturdy and a conversation piece, and because it has duct tape, a manly man bag as well!

11 years ago

My favorite bags are canvas bags. I find them to be the most sturdy and they wash easily. As a student, I don’t usually travel without my backpack. Backpacks are great for grocery shopping because of all the pockets. One pocket holds wallet, keys, etc and another pocket holds extra bags. You can carry the heavy stuff in the backpack and the lighter stuff in bags. Then once the groceries are put away, the empty bags go into the backpack and everything is all in one spot and ready for the next shopping trip. And backpacks come in so many sizes, styles, and colours.

11 years ago

I like a variety, and am a keep-in-the-car (or bike trailer) person. But I still forget sometimes. Then I go to the bin of returned plastic bags that our store has at the front and fish a few out of there. 99.9% of the time they are totally clean, and if not, I just stick them back in their bin. I agree with the suggestion about produce bags; but we need a few plastic bags on hand because we have to pick up dog poop when we walk our dog!

11 years ago

i think the first thing you need to work on is the giant foods, they have at least one or more coops in his area.

i vote for domestically produced (by a worker collective), hemp bags – some full size, some produce. there seem be a bunch of small producers in the eugene, oregon area. i know dar-ge-los is also about to unveil some hemp bags. and one of your posters mentioned one company arleady .

plus a box of biobags, for a transitional phase.

hemp – way less water than cotton needed to grow, and all the other virtues that peopel extol of it. and its not petroleum based either.

the ultimate would be:
-find worn out hemp clothes, possibly at thrift stores or through networking with existing hemp clothes/bag makers, send your favorite worker collective the cloth and have them make the bags. i have had great experiences with circle creations so far.

11 years ago

I can’t live without my RuMe Bags!! I’ve bought a lot of bags over the years and these are by far the best and last the longest.

11 years ago

Just a word of caution about the cheap reusables available at many grocery stores: the seams split easily! I’ve repaired several of mine, some after only a few uses, so they’re not something I’d recommend as a gift. I definitely prefer sturdy canvas. And I love the string bags from Eco Bags when I want something I can stuff in my pocket. Those are great for any kind of groceries, but double as produce bags depending what you’re buying.

I love the bags-in-the-driver-door idea! I’m going to start doing that and see if my hubby catches on. A few weeks ago he did the shopping and carefully asked that several items (fish, etc.) be wrapped in paper instead of plastic, then brought everything home in disposable plastic bags.

11 years ago

I keep our bags in the hall closet with his shoes. After much trial and error it seems to be the place where he will remember to take them.

11 years ago

Hi: I has taken me a while to get my husband to “remember” to use reusable bags. The way I have changed his behavior (gave him a nudge) is by simply starting to stow the regular grocery-available reusable bags in the storage pocket in the _driver’s_ side door of our car. It holds two comfortably, which is typically enough for our groceries (we are CSA members). I then also stow extras in the trunk, for the unlikely event we are doing a super big shop. (We also always shop with a grocery list, so that helps us visualize what amount of things we are bringing back.)

This is type of “visual cue” has worked really well, and is actually something I have being doing with the rest of the boys (teenagers) with some success when it comes to other habit-changing desires

11 years ago

I use the reuseit workhorse ultra compact shopping bag. The bag stuffs into a little attached pocket to about a 3″ x 3″ size. I then carry them to the store in a cotton muslin bag I use for produce which I have in two sizes. I find I use about 4 of the workhorse bags doing a weekly shop since they hold so much. I have 4 of the muslin bags but could use more. I even carry my workhorse bag in my purse when shopping at the mall.

11 years ago

So… I’m not a male… but I don’t carry my bags in my purse (my purse is way too small even for 1 chicobag!) Back in the beginning days of bringing my own bags, my fail safe for remembering was to put them in the passenger seat with something that I needed: my phone, a list, my purse ….. your dad could take his wallet and put it in his bag(s). My husband will often go without if he forgets to take a bag… taking his purchases from the hardware store to his truck in the cart! :)

As far as which bags are my favorite… I like to have a variety– canvas, and lightweight bags. I haven’t personally chosen any bags… I got all of mine as gifts! (…and I have to say that “gifted” bags are my favorite!!)

11 years ago

My dad uses the woven nylon bags that are for sale cheap everywhere – I think many of the stores in our area were giving them away free last year when the bag ban started being talked about. He has about four of them that he folds up flat and tucks into the fifth one and that bundle always lives in his car. He’s uber organized so he rarely does spur of the moment shopping but they’re there if he wants them. After bringing in the weekly grocery shopping, he folds them up and they get set on the table by the front door until the next time he goes out to his car. I wish I were as organized about reuseable bags as he is :)

Annie Waters
11 years ago

HI to all,
I love the many bag suggestions, similar to my lifestyle – but – no one is yet discussing produce & bulk bags yet. Terry, I bet you use them…anyway- I have designed & sell an organic cotton reusable produce bag that I really sell at cost for at least one reason – the sea turtles eat clear produce bags cuz they look like jelly fish.
So – once we habituate using our big bags, it is time to replace the plastic produce bags too! I often don’t use any bag for produce, and I don’t buy produce that is already in plastic. Besides – Why buy organic food and then put it in plastic? Anyway – look at and let me know if I can help you change your next bag habit!

12 years ago

My husband loves his Flip & Tumble. He doesn’t have a purse but he keeps his in whatever coat he is using at the moment. I don’t know how is the weather where your father lives… maybe he doesn’t wear any coat…

Anyway, for big grocery trips the best is sturdy and roomy bags that will allow him to carry only 5-6 bags instead of the 20 plastic ones.

I agree that Chico bags or other compact bags are not the ideal for big grocery trips. You need something that actually takes place to keep you from forgetting about them! You can put them over your shoes/boots in the closet and then you can’t forget about them the next time you will put your shoes on!

Hope this help!

12 years ago

My system is to keep my collection of reusable bags in my car easily accessible and in sight. When I bring a load of groceries into the house, I unload the groceries and immedately hang the bags on the inside front door knob to go back out to the car on my next trip. Works like a charm.

Clif Brown
12 years ago

Beth – I’m here, a male to rescue your dad with his carrying needs. The device I have used for years is called the Medi-Pouch made by Tough Traveler. It’s a small pouch a guy can wear on his belt and lots can be put in it including re-usable plastic bags. The one shown is red but it can be ordered in black.

I keep my glasses in mine along with tools that I frequently use including a small screwdriver great for breaking down cardboard boxes as any good recycler should be able to do at a moment’s notice, a tube of Chap-Stick, a tape measure, a small camera, marking pens, a pencil and ballpoint pen and a highlighter.

These bags last for many years and a Velcro flap makes it easy to access everything.

12 years ago

I scanned through the other comments, and don’t think anyone has mentioned this yet — how about getting him one of the ripstop nylon ones that fold up into a teeny bag and have a clip to put them on your keychain? (Solves the dude problem of no purse in which one could carry reuseable bags.)

Here’s a Chico version on Amazon:

Obviously, he couldn’t clip 20 of these to his keychain. But he could add one, and it would be there for small trips.

For larger stock-ups (ie, groceries), keeping a sack of canvas bags in the car trunk works well. My parents, in fact, don’t even bother with this — their grocery stores offer free cardboard boxes, so they just grab boxes when they’re at the store, fill them up, and then take these out to the car.

If your dad walks to do his grocery shopping (though I can’t imagine he does, since he seems to have 20 bags to take home after), a bundle buggy might work instead, which fits much more than a bag (plastic or reusable).

Good luck. Getting folks to change this habit isn’t easy.

12 years ago

My favourite reusable bags are the assortment of cloth ones I’ve bougth at thrift stores. I like that they’re inexpensive and that they go through the wash easily.

Sara M.
12 years ago

I have a couple of the fold-up kind that I keep in my purse, but they both have clippy-things attached to them that I suppose someone could use to attach to a set of keys or something. Unfortunately I have no idea what brand they are, since they were a present. My mother-in-law found them at one of those Scholastic book fairs at the school where she teaches and got them for me.

Roberta Lockwood
12 years ago

Although I’ve purchased a set of nylon bags from Reusable Bags, I’ve got all kinds, many of which I’ve received from donations to wildlife organizations. One caveat for the older shopper. Most packers I’ve met tend to fill the bags to the brim. Since I am in my seventies, I have difficulty carrying such heavy bags. If you buy him large canvas bags, unless he is still quite strong, he may need to remind the packers not to fill one bag up with all the heavy items.

Kay Pere
12 years ago

Forgot to add:
Help the cashier by holding open bags for easier loading. Standing there face-to-face smile and make pleasant conversation, if they seem so inclined. It may make someone’s day a little nicer. Loading reusable bags is not as easy for the cashiers as loading plastic bags from their dispensers or paper bags that tend to stand up by themselves and stay open. Switching to reusables needs to have a net positive effect on the interpersonal level, as well, or environmental gains become meaningless.

Kathryn Grace
12 years ago

I keep a large canvas bag I bought in 1984 on the door knob. Inside, one of those reusable bottle bags, which is handy for a whole lot more than wine. At the checkout line, I put all my glass-jar items in that bag. Great for protecting bananas too, when you have only one or two glass jars. On the way to the store, it holds all my reusable cloth produce bags and extra Chico bags.

Btw, one cool thing your dad might appreciate about the reusable produce bags is that they come with the tare printed on the sewn-in tag. Savvy clerks automatically deduct the tare. Sometimes I have to remind them.

Like many folks commenting before me, I use a combination of bags. I no longer have a vehicle, so cannot comment there, but I do keep my wallet in one of my canvas bags, which also always contains a spare Chico. Since I never leave home without my wallet, I’m never without at least two sturdy bags.

12 years ago

I employ a lot of the techniques suggested here. I always have bags in the car, and if I forget to bring them with me into the store, I just have the goods loaded into my cart, roll it out to the car and bag the stuff up right there.

I want to suggest visiting consignment and thrift stores for new and nearly new reusable bags, before going out to purchase new ones.

12 years ago

No need for 20 bags. One or 2 will do.
What’s most important, make loading and unloading purchases easy. How?
Get 2 cardboard boxes (one bigger, one a little smaller) that can be nested.
Keep them in the trunk. When going shopping, place them in the cart. The bags come handy when there is excess for the boxes.
Loading the boxes in the car is a breeze. Same with bringing the purchases in the house. Then place them by the door, so when you go out the door you’ll see them and take them to the car.

Also, your dad could reuse the plastic bags he already has. Until he develops the habit.

The Cloudwalking Owl
12 years ago

I go with what’s free. I have a Bullfrog Power bag that I got for free when I signed up, it is STRONG. I also have a Green Party bag that a salesman gave me when he was trying to get me to encourage a bulk order from the party. Again, very strong. But I also use the old bags that I get rice in from the Chinese grocery store. These are uber strong, some of them have zippers. Some are made of plastic, unfortunately, but not disposable. Others are made out of cotton or burlap.

One point I should suggest, however, toss your bags in the washer once in a while. Otherwise, you are just carrying too much dirt around. I never use produce bags, I just toss the stuff right in the bag, so cleaning the shopping bag regularly is important.

12 years ago

We use Reclamationgoods hemp and cotton bags (made here in Oregon and available from Mirador Community Store in Portland) for bagging veggies, fruit, grains, flour, and any other dry bulk items. These are available in two different sizes and close with a drawstring. We use them for storing produce in the fridge as well. When the produce in them is used up, they go in the wash.

We have several larger canvas, cotton, and hemp bags for carrying groceries, including the smaller bags of grains and produce, that we have been collecting from different sources for years – from co-ops we have visited abroad, and our own local co-ops. All are washable,and they never seem to wear out. My favourite is a very strong cotton bag with wild birds on it that a friend in Australia sent me. They are all different strengths and have a variety of handle lengths, so we use different bags for different shopping expeditions. We keep them on a hook by the front door so that even at our advanced age, we can’t forget them.

12 years ago

I seem to have quite a collection. I am no fan of Walmart but they do have blue shopping cloth bags for 50cents which is the best deal I have seen. I unload my bags then put them right back in the car for the next time. You have to start every checkout with stating no platic bags please. Well meaning clerks insist vegtables, poultry and ice cream have to be wrapped in plastic.

12 years ago

Male reader here. :)

I probably like my heavy canvas bags from Whole Foods best, because they’re just so darn sturdy. But mostly my stash is a TON of 49-cent “Green Bags” that my old grocery store was selling by the checkout. They’re cheap. They work. You can buy lots of them for almost nothing. You can keep a stash in the car and a stash at home and a few in other places too. They’re generally just handy, and I find it easier not to worry about them because they’re so darn cheap.

12 years ago

Go canvas. I like the Whole Foods bag. Twenty bags a week seems high. Often at our stores they try and bag an item like eggs in a single bag. If I take two of the larger, paper bag sized bags I find that I can get all the groceries in them for my wife and I. I do think two bags are helpful. One for frozen foods, one for fresh fruits and vegetables, mixing dry goods between the two. Often I may have a large item that I don’t bag. I think the LL Bean bags would make a nice shopping bag. Sturdy, solid handles, and masculine colors.
One thing to think about is does your dad shop spontaneously or planned. If he plans his shopping trips then a compact bag he always carries would be wasted functionality. For me, even if I stop in quickly it is generally for just a few items. Then I have the motto, “If I can carry it up I can carry it out.”

Angie LaMunyon
12 years ago

I love’s acme bags. They have a set of four that come in a little sack. You can keep the sack in the car and easily carry it with you. The individual bags are small enough to put one or two into your pocket, and they all have loops to clip on a clip to a keychain. I love them! Also, they fit on the bag racks just like plastic ones while you’re bagging. God luck!

Chris Danner
12 years ago

The Baggu is nice because it folds up into a flat 5″ x 5″ square – fits nicely into a pocket. Lightweight, but sturdy. Drawbacks: must be folded (very easy,tho) and storage pouch is not attached, so you have to pay attention and not lose it!

Besides the Baggu I have many bags in a wide variety of types and fabrics which I usually keep in my car.

It’s good to have lots of bags because it’s good to wash them occasionally – I sort of rotate through my collection.