Paper, plastic or reusable? Reusable shopping bags have exploded in popularity, and many stores offer discounts for using your own bag versus using store-supplied bags.
I’ve amassed quite a collection of reusable grocery bags (more on that later in this column!) and I like using them for several reasons. In addition to receiving discounts for bringing my own bags, I find that the reusable bags are stronger – important to me as I often am toting heavy groceries downstairs to my pantry. It only took one glass bottle of maple syrup to rip through a plastic, disposable bag and shatter on my garage floor for me to remember to bring my bags with me on each shopping trip. Now, I keep a “bag of bags” in my vehicle – five or six reusable bags stuck inside another reusable bag – so that they’re always ready for the next shopping trip.
Reader Carl is having some issues with reusable bags though. Here’s his email.
This is not a coupon issue but rather an issue with reusable grocery bags. Over the last couple years, I have had about a dozen bags. At least a half dozen broke down and turned to powder. One was brand new – never used – which fell behind the driver’s seat of my car and, when I tried to pick it up after a couple months, it broke down into dust in my hands. Disposable plastic bags have never done this.
It’s true that some reusable bags are indeed constructed more durably than others. I mentioned my reusable bag collection earlier – I would estimate that I have more than 30 bags now, so I can offer some tips on which kinds seem to last the longest. How did I get so many? Well, my original collection of bags started a few years ago when several retailers began giving away a free reusable bag if you shopped on Earth Day in April. I’ve also acquired additional bags from in-store offers, such as buying three boxes of cereal to get a free shopping bag.
But the rest of my bags? They’re cheap souvenirs of the cities and states I’ve visited when traveling the country for work or for pleasure. I always make a point of visiting local supermarkets when I travel. My reusable bags feature everything from a Hawaiian poke bowl to a lighthouse in Rhode Island, and they bring a smile to my face and remind me of the places I’ve been.
Having used a variety of different bags, I do have some tips. The nonwoven, polypropylene bags are the most common variety. In my experience, they’re also the least reliable. They don’t seem to last as long for me as other kinds, and their thin fabric walls are prone to tearing. I’ve also had handles rip off of these more than once while carrying a heavy load. I would guess these are the kinds of bags Carl is referring to – they simply don’t seem to be built to last.
More reliable are the vinyl or plastic-coated bags, which usually have a polypropylene interior and a shiny, coated exterior. Many of these also have woven handles. I have some of these bags that are almost seven years old and still going strong.
I also have a couple of 100 percent cotton bags. They’re a lot thinner than a canvas bag, but they’re strong and lightweight.
Remember that reusable bags do get dirty and harbor bacteria, particularly from meats and produce. I try to wash my reusable bags once a month. Keep in mind that polypropylene bags cannot go in the dryer – they’ll melt. Line dry them and they’ll remain intact.
Smart Living Tip: I’ve found that the lightweight, cotton reusable bags fold up very small, about the size of a deck of cards. I keep one in my purse all the time, and it has come in handy for everything from impromptu walks to the store to carrying books home from the library.