reusable bag ideas

Being a rebellious human can happen in major ways like starting a intersectional feminist digital media organization or “small” ways like saving the planet by reducing your plastic bag use. Having to pay for bags to carry everyday purchases is annoying and expensive. Here are four alternatives for plastic bags and four tips for remembering to use them.

Bike Accessories

If you bike, chances are you already do this. If you don’t bike, here’s another reason to start. Adding a basket or carrying bag to your bike is super easy and cheap.

Bike options include double bags/panniers for your back wheel or a front basket for the handle bars. There are even collapsible bike baskets. You can buy these new or source them from free/cheap Craigslist or online buy/sell/trade groups.

If you’re feeling a lil DYI and don’t care too much about aesthetics, you can attach a milk crate with jumbo zip ties.

YouTube video

Polyester Shoppers

Polyester shopping bags are great because they come in funky designs, are waterproof and machine washable. Best of all, many come folded in tiny pouches that you can attach to your key chain, purse, belt and pants loop. In Europe, shoppers sell for less than 3 euros (approx. $3.50). Amazon sells some at 6 for $16.

I suggest duct taping the bottom, inside seam before use to extend life. Instead of washing in a machine, just wipe clean or swish in some running water. I find you only need one or two in your arsenal, so find that friend with Amazon Prime and split the bill.

Granny Carts

Big W Granny Trolley
Granny trolley from Big W (Click for details)

They’re not very trendy, especially to Americans, but granny carts are a godsend that save many a young back from breaking. Also, they make carrying groceries up stairs a breeze. I found most Chicago cart users opt for the utility cart from Target ($30). However, it’s heavy, lunky, and not cute. Worst of all, everyone can see what you’re carrying, and smaller items fall through the square gaps.

Save cash and run errands in style by getting a granny cart from Whole Foods. They have fun colors, people can’t see what’s inside, and when empty, they fold flat so you don’t annoy your fellow public transport users. You can also remove the bag and use the short bed to stack boxes, crates, or even unassembled IKEA furniture. I purchased one in 2012 for $27. Five years later, it’s still going strong. Once I took my dirty laundry to class and no one knew; they assumed I’d gotten groceries.

Bag swag

Louder Than A Mom
Louder Than A Mom tote (Click for details)

I usually avoid branded corporate merch because it’s often poor quality, and I don’t need everyone to know my bidness. However, for groceries, I’d rather carry that free duffle from my crappy call center job than pay extra.

I purchased a woven bag from a Canadian grocer for about $2, and five years later, it has only needed one one duct tape repair.

To do more good, consider buying tote bags from your favorite organizations or content creators. I recommend picking one that has a flat vs V-shaped bottom. I find the square/rectangle design is better for stacking. Bonus points if you find one that has a cardboard, wooden, or plastic insert. They add a bit of weight but protect your items from being crushed or unstable.

Let’s make reusable bags the trendy gift to give. Bought a friend a bottle of wine? Don’t pair it with a silly $5 paper gift bag, spring for a planet-friendly reusable tote.

How to remember your bag

  • Get at least one bag that fits in a side pouch of your main bag or on a key chain.
  • Drivers: Keep a bag, granny cart or crate in your trunk.
  • Switch to a backpack, especially if you’re a public transport user. That way you’ll always have space for miscellaneous purchases.
  • Plan your shopping trips. Include “take bag” in the reminder. If you forget your bag, ask the store clerk for a FREE cardboard box.

Let’s change the culture!

Nederlanders give the side eye whenever someone purchases bags for what appears to be their weekly or planned shopping trip. No, it’s not because they care deeply about the planet. They do, but it’s because they are super frugal. Congratulating those who remember will be a reminder to yourself and encouragement to them. Instead of shaming, share one of these tips on how to find a low cost bag, a free box, be better prepared.

Bonus pro tip: If you used to rely on free grocery bags as trash bags, just snag a few extra produce bags; they are big and surprisingly durable. Don’t go overdoing it, though, or don’t be obvious. Keep this one between us rebellious folks.

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Onicia Muller is a Caribbean writer and comedian currently freezing her buns off in Chicago. A former crime reporter and children’s columnist, she's found her happy place writing about women in entertainment....