Alternative to Plastic Bags When Buying Produce?? | Plastic-Free Discussion Board

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Alternative to Plastic Bags When Buying Produce??
November 7, 2012 - 11:08 am

Hi, everyone.  I am a newbie and just getting started on the journal to no plastic-land.  I am in the process of reading Beth’s book (thank you, Beth!) and have read the part about cloth bags to use when buying produce.  I cannot buy those locally because I live in a small town which does not have stuff like this, so I would have to order them online.  I thought of a possible alternative in using lingerie bags, which you can buy in most discount stores.  I might even be able to get one in a thrift store.  Have any of you ever tried this, and if so, did it work well for you?  I have a feeling I will get weird looks no matter what I try, as I sometimes get weird looks with my reusable shopping bags. 

By the way, I found out in the book that my reusable shopping bags are actually plastic, despite their appearance of begin cloth.  I will use them until they completely wear out, though.  Arrgh.


Elizabeth Mitchel
November 7, 2012 - 2:40 pm

I don’t have a prefect solution or an answer about the lingerie bags but some ideas to get started are these:

1. For most produce just don’t take a plastic bag. Maybe you will have to make exceptions for some things, but even things like potatoes and apples, I just hand them to the cashier as they are, even if there are several. 

2. You could start by reusing the plastic produce bags you already have until they wear out. You can carry them along in your “cloth” grocery bag. 

Hope that helps a bit.

November 8, 2012 - 8:03 am

What about small cardboard boxes? Maybe the produce dept might let you have some of the ones that the products are shipped in? I did discover that a large farm market by me sells their apples this way.

I feel like it is hit or miss when it comes to cashiers being understanding of using reusable bags. I am going to start keeping track and only go to those cashiers who are helpful. I recently discovered that my normal store sells bulk nuts, but no alternative to using a plastic bag for them.


I would recommend making your own cloth bags from t-shirts or old tank tops. I like the tank ones because they already have the handles made. There are lots of “how to” posts available on the internet. I was able to buy a brand new insulated bag at a yard sale. (I won’t buy one new because of the plastic though.)

November 8, 2012 - 9:15 am

Agree with making your own produce bags. Pretty simple, using old t-shirts, sheet, etc. The weight is similar to plastic. If you don’t sew, find someone locally and pay them a few bucks (or barter) to sew up 5 or 10. Etsy also has lots of alternatives you can purchase, and you’d be supporting craftspersons in the process. Lingerie bags would work, too, but may have plastic in them. T-shirts, sheets, lingerie bags all available at thrift shops.

Even if you have to order online, the bags last a really long time, so the cost will ultimately be minimal.

Cashiers sometimes don’t like not being able to see what you have so I just leave open so they can peak. Once they’ve gotten used to my system- usually no problem! A few get grumpy, but as electrofriend says, just avoid them in the future. Don’t need that!

November 10, 2012 - 3:20 am


I found muslin makes good produce bags; shirtsleeves (once cuffs and collar have died) make excellent bread bags (also good shoe bags for inside suitcases).  Also, beeswaxed handkerchiefs (either new, or very well boiled first) make good “clingfilm” replacements.

June 30, 2015 - 10:06 am

Small pillow cases also work well – I get them at thrift stores. Also, if you’re a knitter, there are dozens of mesh bag patterns like these:

December 13, 2015 - 3:05 am

I made a bunch of towels and produce bags from an old linen sheet. It didn’t take too long, I just cut up as many towel and produce bag “sized” rectangles as I could get out of it and then hemmed them up. I don’t shop at Whole Foods, where the checkers are probably used to seeing non-plastic produce bags, I stick to the union stores  and at my local Safeway and Lucky, the cashiers never flinch when my produce comes through.  Sometimes I would accidentally bring the linen towels instead of the linen produce bags with me, and  they would have to unwrap my half-assed furoshiki set-up to get to the food and still they never said anything.   I’ve never done the tare thing like weighing them before going to the store, sometimes the checkers remove the food and sometimes they leave it in, but I really don’t care how they do it. I guess I should weigh my bags at some point!

I second re-using what you have until it’s no longer useful and then finding whatever type of container will work for you. I think a lot of the “dedicated” produce bags are way overpriced though, like on Etsy.  If you sew or if you know someone who sews, you’ll be way ahead of the game, just sew up some old clothes or buy an old sheet at a thrift store and cut it up and you’re done at a bargain basement price. Your local dry cleaner has industrial sewing machines, I’m sure they’d be happy to throw together any fabric you have, it’s basically just hemming squares or rectangles and  a drawstring at the top.

Don’t forget about any brown bags you have lying around. I had a stash of lunch-bag sized brown bags (I kept mushrooms in them) and used those for a long time before needing to deal with a longer-term solution.  [Image Can Not Be Found]

Beth Terry
409 Posts
December 14, 2015 - 9:40 am

Absolutely. I’m going to begin a Buy Nothing New challenge beginning on January 1. The main strategy will be converting whatever I already own into whatever it is that I think I need. I’ve already started by knitting myself a winter scarf and a felted checkbook cover this month with yarn from my years old yarn stash. I’ve also been unraveling a cotton sweater to have ready for my next project, whatever that happens to be. I’m glad you’re repurposing materials you already have and that the checkers are not giving you any hassles. Kudos!

December 24, 2015 - 2:30 pm

I welcome any kind of no buying / using challenge.  A few days ago a friend’s dog chewed the ears and face off one of my sock monkeys :( but instead of tossing the poor fellow (the sock money, not the dog), I cut up his body :p  into little squares and stuffed them with his inside wool stuffing  to make metatarsal pads for my feet!  (I have a neuroma that acts up occasionally.)

And this morning at the grocery store, a woman commented on my linen produce bags, so  I gave her one!  She was thrilled. I told her I made it from an old sheet and she was amazed. I said  she could make them with old clothes or large rags or an old sheet or just  buy some on line. 

Trust me, before reading your book and finding this website, I would NEVER have done things like this.   It makes me feel a little more “conscious,” anyway. Happy holidays!  [Image Can Not Be Found]

Beth Terry
409 Posts
January 10, 2016 - 4:20 pm

So cool. I finally have time to sit down and write a blog post today, and I’m going to write about a few of my own recent DIY solutions. Yours are great and very resourceful!

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