Monday, July 14, 2008

Produce Bags, Anyone?

It seems like everyone is using cloth shopping bags these days—a great thing since the number of plastic grocery bags consumed each year is somewhere between 500 billion and 1 trillion.

But what about produce bags?! From what I can tell, absolutely no one in Chicago is using them. It's crazy!

Indeed so few Chicagoans are hip to these amazing little baggies that I'm forced to assume that most people don't even know what they are.

Here's a quick, if not obvious, explanation:
  • Produce bags are small cloth sacks.
  • They serve as reusable replacements for the disposable, plastic produce bags most of us are familiar with.
  • They're available in various sizes from several online vendors including,, and
  • To be the most eco-friendly, you can also make your own produce bags out of your old t-shirts or use bags you already have around the house.
I got my produce bags from back in October and have been loving them ever since.

When I pull them out in the supermarket and start putting apples or spinach into them, no one notices or looks twice at what I'm doing (although, to be honest, I'm so proud of my produce bags that I'd be happy if they did). And when I have things rung up, the cashiers never seem to care. They just peek into the bags, quickly figure out what's inside, and ring the stuff up. It's painless.

If you're trying to find easy ways to green your lifestyle, get some produce bags. You won't regret it.

For additional tips on how to use less plastic, see the following post: Protect the Environment: Ten Tips for Avoiding Plastic.


Anonymous said...

I once had a cashier start taking the produce out of the bag because of the (very) slight increase in weight.

Other than that once they have never drawn much attention, and I love that the bar code stickers they print out come off easily, unlike with plastic bags.

Anonymous said...


DRJG said...

I came across your blog accidentally and liked it very much - it is a concern today. There are answers to some of your concerns in older traditions and those still survive in some countries. India is largely one.

For a hair wash problem solutions are plenty in India, though I am afraid they are reducing in use, but who knows a person using them in USA might start the fashion wave back as it happened with Yoga.

There are specifically two thigs used in India traditionally, Shikaakaaie in most of the country and Reethaa (the t as in table only with an aspirate that goes with it) in the north, the latter is a fruit I think and you could look into growing the plant or tree in your own yard. The former is generally available as a ready powder but is again from a plant, I think it is from pods, you might start enquiring - any women you meet who are from India (I would say Indian except most people of U.S. either deliberately misuse or usually innocently misunderstand that to mean native Americans) especially first generation emigrants or visitors, any old parents from India visiting their children in U.S., and generally if you visit an Indian grocery store - Chicago has a lot, but most places you will find one - and ask, they would be happy to help with information and perhaps more. There are Ayurvedic Research Institutions in India that might give informationa nd perhaps help to find how to grow those but certainly the Indian grocery could order it for you or if you have a friend or colleague they could have it shipped.

A simple solution in India used in summer in north is yogurt, which you massage into your scalp - a teaspoon or two at most - and left for say half an hour and then washed off with hot water. Some people have used diluted lemonjuice for the wash but I would be careful. Yogurt is good for a massage and wash of face and body as well, used as an alternative or supplement to soap, and it gives a wonderful feeling.

There are other solutions you might want to look into - go for a little more learning of Ayurveda (literally, Life-Knowledge). There are some companies in India, specifically one Himalaya (pronounced Himaalaya, not Himalaayaa) that sells wonderful prducts, only they do come bottled in plastic. You might write and ask them about your concerns and about other queries related to their products, but it might be good if you visit India once.

If you visit Indian grocery store you might find that it is easy or at least easier to shop there and do without plastic, and in India it is still possible though plastic is coming more into use - but at the same time there is concern about it and people, even shops, are trying to do away with it. Small towns, rural areas and small shops in large cities still can sell without plastic if you bring bags, as we did when I grew up.

There are two factors thouogh - glass can be dangerous and is as such not a good alternative. Cans are no good, especially for eatables - I hated stuff out of cans when living in U.S. and used frozen for a shortcut when I could afford it, which was not until the last year of stay there.

But eating Indian food made at home - spices are not compulsory, they can be as little as you like and are actually better when in small quatities - is cheaper and more plastic free than normal way lived there. Basically it amounts to grains and beans and vegetables cooked with a little seasoning (small amount of spices roasted or fried in small quantity of oil or butter and added to food steaming or steamed or boiling or boiled or to be steamed or boiled) and it is more than possible to get the grains or flour from the store, especially Indian store, without the plastic. Vegetables, of course so.

I have no solution for garbage bags, though, other than plastic. Not yet at least.

I shall be looking forward to reading your blog. Haven't read all of it of course - just began.

Lovelyn said...

I'd never seen reusable produce bags before. They're a great idea. I'm going to make some at of some old t-shirts.

Uma said...


I read about your blog in time magazine under "going green. truth about plastic". I read that you were trying to find a plastic-less shampoo.I used to have very long hair and growing up in a small town in India we didnt come across shampoo until i was in my 20's. We used to buy a dried fruit kind of thing called 'kunkudu kaaya' in Telugu(in my native language). we used to boil it in water with hibiscus leaves. then take the juice and wash the hair. the hibiscus leaves act as conditioner. its very effective but a little stingy. thats the traditional way indian women used to wash their hair for generations before the advent of shampoo. Hope you will find it useful.

The Green Cat said...

I don't understand produce bags. I just pick up my produce and put it in my shopping basket and then put it in my regular (canvas) bags when I check out. Why would one need a special bag for the produce? What am I missing here?

LifeLessPlastic said...

Greenest Cat,

You make the obvious point here. For things like apples and oranges, produce bags are unnecessary. I think a lot of people want to use them to keep their stuff "clean" but I'm pretty sure after a few days in the grocery store pretty much every fruit or veggie has been dropped or touched.

Produce bags are, however, completely necessary for things like loose spinach or mushrooms.

And since people are going to continue using the plastic ones, we need to find a better alternative like the cloth bags I suggest.

Emily Fisher said...

Hi there, I'm the online editor at Oceana, the marine conservation nonprofit. I found your blog from the Time magazine article, and I really admire what you're doing here -- keep it up!

Plastic pollution in the ocean is a huge problem, as the Time magazine article mentions. To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, head to our plastics page, and everyone can sign our plastics pledge here.

p.s. I love the idea of produce bags... I mentioned it on our blog today!

Nadine said...

I used my new produce bags for the first time this past weekend. They worked great! The cashier made a bit of show out of trying to see through it to get the code, but I didn't flinch. Can't beat me with a little false drama.

Debbie said...

I'm not in Chicago, but I use 'em. I've never had cashiers question them, but fellow shoppers have stopped me and asked me about them. And the farmer's market vendors admire them as well.

Mona said...

Hi...I discovered your blog recently and am loving the advice, inspiration, and support as I try to live 'greener.'
I noticed recently that the Lakeview Whole Foods had started stocking small brown paper bags (think lunchbags) for the bulk items. I love them (it helps that they don't break and spill everywhere like the plastic ones did, too.) Apart from that, I almost never bag my produce...Ecobags sound like a nice touch for things like loose-leaf greens, green beans, etc, though. I'll have to look into them.


Amy Wachspress said...

I just found your blog after reading the article in Time Magazine. Yay! I'm just at the beginning of my quest to reduce plastic. But I can give you some more ideas from things I have implemented. You are unable to give up your vegetable broth in a can -- there is vegetable broth in cubes wrapped in foil that come in a box. Great stuff. I am working on giving up all plastic bags. I use compostable bags made out of cornstarch and plant materials. I have one plastic bag in my kitchen trash can as a "liner" and I have not had to change it in weeks. I place a compostable trash bag inside it and remove that every few days, before it begins to break down. I used to keep a compost pile but have given it up (won't go into the long reason why) and now I have a large pot on the counter with a compostable (small) bag in it. I take that out to the garbage can every couple of days and replace it. I bought the small compostable bags at Costco. I have enough to last a year, only a few dollars. I am finding that compostable bags come in many sizes and I am transitioning to using only those or the produce bags you mentioned. This is a long post. I hope perhaps you can use the info in a blog post. Doubt many readers will read this whole post. Keep up the good work. And don't be too hard on yourself. This is difficult stuff.

mitch316 said...

e that you were looking for a recipe for shampoo. Here it is:
1 Handfull fresh or dried chamomile flowers
1 1/4 cups boiling water
3 TBS pure soap flakes (or slivers of old soap)
1 TBS Glycerin
5 drops yellow food coloring (u can make ur own
Add boiling water to flowers in bowl, let stand 15 minutes. Strain in another bowl. Clean 1st Bowl, mix flower mixture and soap flakes and let stand until flakes soften. Beat in glycerin and food coloring. Makes 14 ounces.

I have many more. We make all of our household cleaners, soaps, etc. I can share more if you would like.

Allison said...

I wasn't going to post here because my question was answered while reading your comments. And while reading I found out about the Time article. Wow! Congrats! Thanks for getting the green message out into the main stream. Great job. Great blog!

Anonymous said...

Lingere bags(for the wash)make great produce bags as well.

ThreadBeaur said...

Check out for your bags. There are some great ones that are made of mesh, so the cashier won't have to take them out to scan them!

ThreadBeaur said...

And they are handmade! So you are not supporting a large company that may not have such environmentally friendly practices (even if they are making eco friendly bags)!

The Green Routine said...

Since the scales at grocers are zeroed at the weight of a plastic produce bag. I guess you'd want to use the lightest material possible for these bags to save money...

Out of curiosity how much do your bags weigh? Have you found it to be a negligible increase in price?

Going Crunchy said...

I bought some nice ones from Willowluna on, and they have worked really well. Organic cotton and very inexpensive.

I also use the simple zip bags that you would use for your "delicates." That has been the most frugal solution.

I find I need them for things like berries and bulk mushrooms.

warcrygirl said...

For those of your readers who are 'knitty' I found a pattern online that can be modified to make bags of various sizes:

I'm going to try this, I need to get back into my knitting AND I need produce bags. You won't believe how many I end up bringing home from the Farmer's Market!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing about cloth bags! I happened across your blog last week, .... Last night, I received a batch of cloth produce bags and a few strings bags (that I ordered online). Now, to practice saying, "no plastic bag, thanks!" :-)

Jamie said...

So how much more do the cloth bags weigh? I mean I know it can't weigh that much, but it has to be more than the thin little plastic bags. And I know that sounds silly, but when you are watching every penny, weight counts. When buying produce by the pound, the extra weight has to add up.

LifeLessPlastic said...

My bags weigh .08 ounces, so if you were buying something that cost 2.00/lb, you'd end up spending 10 extra cents.

Anonymous said...

I am new from your blog.reusable bags are very useful. this is very knowledgeable thinking. its a very new technology.its very worth able.thanks........

Anonymous said...

you seem very environmentally aware, and that's awesome! may i suggest watching the documentary 'Cowspiracy' on Netflix? it completely changed the direction of my understanding of environmental awareness, even though the corny title was something I had to get over a little.