Just bag it

Reusable Bag

If you take your bike and a reusable bag to the grocery, even better! Photo: A Basil Memories Bicycle Pannier from TheBicycleMuse.com.

For my very first post on Lindsay’s List let me state the obvious: use your own bags when shopping


Encouraging consumers to bring their own bags to grocery stores and malls is the no-brainer of the conservation lifestyle. But even though it’s obvious, I have to say it again.

The statistics are so alarming. Between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are used every year. And talk about a short shelf life. You use ‘em until you get home and maybe you save them for stinky diapers or the cat box, but otherwise, they’re trash bound.

The sad fact is they take 1,000 years to degrade and as they do they break into ever smaller bits, contaminating soil, groundwater, and increasingly our oceans, like in the great Pacific trash heap vortex. Ugh.

Not to mention that these bags cost consumers around $4 billion a year. Sure, bag makers and distributors make money and jobs off of this, but welcome to the market pals, it’s time for a new career. This one’s killing us.

We can do better

Business have been selling their own branded eco-bags for a few years now. Usually for around a buck you can get one. Schools sell them with your mascot to build school spirit and raise funds. These puppies are everywhere. Sadly, many of them are made in China, meaning no net job gains for Americans and a big carbon footprint getting the bags across the Pacific in a shipping container.

So make your own. Or buy some from a crafter on Etsy (preferably near where you live). Check your local art galleries for locally-made artisan bags. And if you wanna go really cut-rate, check the Sally or a yard sale. I think old-school style canvas and duck bags rock!

Change your mind

To me the real challenge on reusable grocery bags is remembering to take them with me.

I’ve got a ton of them, but it’s taken me the longest time to move from the cultural ethos of “trash it” to the mindful ethos of reuse it. I find I have to go right back to my bike or my Prius after a grocery trip to put the bags where I’ll need them the next time.

I also live in a small but bustling Transition Town, with two independent grocers near my house. I advise other urban folks to get a highly compact, durable reusable grocery bag and tuck it in your purse, backpack, or even computer case so you can shop while going to or from work without using more disposable bags.

I love ChicoBag—they’ve got a great philosophy—but they manufacture in China…what’s up with that? (Hey, entrepreneurs, here’s your chance to do a made in the USA thing while creating jobs and meeting needs.)

Reusable styling

If you’re really into being styling, try a metro shopper or a market basket. I personally don’t love these synthetic materials as I prefer things made with less impact on the planet. But they are cool looking and sturdy. For the farmer’s market I find a heavy bottomed natural carrying basket does the trick.

Above all, recognize that it’s as much about a mental and cultural shift as it is about doing something good for the soil, water and air. You’ve got to decide that it’s intolerable to support single-use products, like grocery bags, straws, disposable cups and the like.

And then you’ve got to act on it. And then act on it again and again and again until it’s in your habituated rhythms.

Be the hundredth monkey, friend.

–Lindsay Curren, Lindsay’s List

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About Lindsay Curren

Lindsay Curren has no intention of ending up the Scarlett O'Hara of the 21st century, dizzy and confused as neo-Rome burns. Instead, the Staunton, Virginia based writer, designer and high-heeled survivalist writes Lindsay's List, the women's conservation blog and edits Transition Voice, the online magazine on peak oil and the coming life of sweaty labor and, hopefully, nicer manners.


  1. Good, practical advice. Where I live, I can’t do shopping on foot, so I always toss my canvas Mother Earth News shopping bags in the trunk of my car when I’ve emptied them from a shopping trip. Then they’re there when I need them.

  2. Perfect place to start, both for your new venture and for all of us trying to do our part. And you’re right: remembering is the rub, so I keep bags in the car. Great tip on putting one in my purse!

    • Thanks for the feedback, Karen. I want one for my purse too—since I live so close to downtown, I find myself so often out walking and then I just “pop in” somewhere unexpectedly and I need that compact shopper for those occasions.

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