Plastic-Free July Eco-Challenge, Day 5: Plastic-Free is in the Bag

A popular question I’ve been asked when discussing my habits of reducing plastic waste at the grocery store is “How?” How do I get so much stuff without using ANY plastic/

It’s taken me years of practice to get into the groove of not using plastic, especially at the grocery store. The biggest help is bringing your own bags from home. This includes your canvas bags, produce bags, and dry bulk bags.

Ahead of my Time

I’ve been using my own canvas bags for a LOOOOOONG time. It’s something my mother taught me (thanks, mom!), and back then, it was considered weird and unusual. I have tons of hilarious stories of my early days of grocery shopping. Back then, I only had 5-6 canvas bags, and cashiers often didn’t know what to make of my gesture. Several times, cashiers tried to ring them up (despite the stains and slight tears in the bags). More than once, if I had more groceries than could fit in the bags, baggers asked what I wanted to do with the remainder of my groceries, and not in the “paper or plastic” sense. They honestly didn’t know if I WANTED the groceries if they couldn’t fit in the canvas bags.

Something about this bag screamed “I’m from the store and need to be purchased”. Yes, I’ve had this bag for more than 15 years. If it ain’t broke, why throw it out?


Today, I can go ANYWHERE and bring my own bag. Part of it is the culture of using your own bag is widely accepted. Part of it is living near Seattle. Not too long ago, I visited my parents in South Carolina and went shopping. I bought a pair of pants and when the cashier tried to put them in a plastic bag, I tried to refuse. “No,” she said in a shocked tone “you have to have a bag to leave the store. You can just throw the bag away once you leave.” I rolled my eyes. That defeats the purpose of NOT getting a bag!

But last time I visited, I went into a craft store and just bought a roll of duct tape. When I told the cashier I didn’t need a bag, she just smiled at me and nodded. So, there’s progress!

Make Sure You Have Enough Bags

I have approximately 13,000 bags. They are everywhere- in my car, in Chris’ car, with friends, in our living room, in the garage. Look to my left, yup, there’s a bag. And, yeah, there’s one to my right as well (although I needed to strain a little to see it).

Why do I have so many bags? Because you never know when you’ll need one. I pop into the grocery store more times for last minute items that my husband reminds me that we need. Rather than get a plastic bag, I ALWAYS have one at the ready. It’s another little habit my mother taught me. She taught me well.

I really get tempted to bring some of the semi-older bags into the store and hand them out to people in front of me or behind me, who don’t have bags. Who doesn’t have reusable bags nowadays? I’m serious! They are EVERYWHERE and most of the time, they are FREE!

These all cost me FREE. And that’s just what I had laying around…


I also use these bags for other shopping than groceries. I get cat food, books from the library (one can never have too many books), thrift store purchases, and well, that’s about all I buy. My point is, you can never have too many books, nor can you have too many bags.

If You Can’t Buy It, Make It

There are bags online you can now purchase to hold your produce from the supermarket. You know, so you don’t have to hear me scream when you put the BANANA into a PLASTIC BAG? Seriously, folks, you’ve got to stop that. I die a little each time I see this happening. THEY COME IN THEIR OWN PROTECTIVE COVERING!!!

You can put whatever your heart desires in these produce bags- lettuce, apples, cherries from the farmers’ market. But they aren’t free. I don’t know how much the bags specifically designed to hold your produce cost. I got one set as a gift, and the rest I make myself.

That’s right, I make my own produce bags. I’m really excited to share this with you, because not only can I teach you how to make the bags, but I can SHOW you in person on July 7th. I’ll be at the South Whidbey Tilth Farmers Market making produce bags from old T-shirts. It’s pretty simple.

You need a pair of scissors and an old T-shirt. Cut 2-3 inch slits along the bottom of the shirt (the part which gets tucked into pants). Then tie the strips from the front side of the shirt to the strips on the back side of the shirt. This makes the bottom of the bag. Next, cut off the sleeves. This creates the handles. Walla! Free produce bag.

Use What You’ve Already Got

Another way to get cheap produce or bulk bags is to use bags you’ve already got. For items I absolutely cannot get without plastic packaging, like tortillas, or jerky, I save the bags and reuse them for my bulk items.  Just scratch out the UPC code and write the contents in legible print for the cashier to use.

This is a great way to keep plastic out of the landfills, and it’s an easy way to go shopping while reducing more plastic consumption.

Skip the Bag Altogether

If you are only getting 1 or 2 items, do you REALLY need a bag? Now, if you are also juggling your toddler, are on the phone, and it’s a cumbersome item, I’ll give you a pass. But take time to consider “Do I need another piece of plastic in my life?” If the answer is yes, then proceed. But if the answer is no, refuse the bag, the packaging, the straw, the bottle, or whatever else we are consuming on a regular basis.

The earth will thank you, and so will the next generation.

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