Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Reusable Organic/Fairly Traded Shopping Bags

In 2005, only 5.2 percent of U.S. plastic bags were recycled, according to the EPA. Now, in a move against global warming as well as overflowing landfills, San Francisco has become the first U.S. city to ban the use of non-biodegradable plastic shopping bags by supermarkets, drug stores and other big retailers (ninety percent of grocery bags are made of non-biodegradable polyethylene, whose production consumes petroleum and natural gas and releases CO2 into the atmosphere). And Ikea, which has used 70 million plastic shopping bags a year in the U.S., is now charging 5 cents per bag, donating the proceeds to American Forests.

One of my favorite and most enduring gifts came from a thoughtful cousin a few years ago: She sent a set of six plain cotton canvas tote bags in various sizes. Just having a plethora by the door makes it easy to grab them when heading out to the grocery store, pharmacy, farmers’ market or the gym. I don’t always remember, but I try to make a habit of tucking a bag into a pocket or purse whenever I go out. One motivator: getting 10 cents’ credit (up from 5 cents, last year!) for every bag I bring and fill at Whole Foods.

Organic cotton canvas totes in natural ($9) or black ($10) are available at, and they get cheaper if you buy 3 or more. They also sell the archetypal French string mesh shopping bag, which scrunches up into a bare fistful, expands to hold a basketball, and never goes out of style. In “fiesta” colors, $10 each, $47 for five.

Some other ideas:

Colorful round, collapsible market baskets woven by a fair trade cooperative in Ghana, $29 at

Elegant cotton totes, embroidered in subtle paisleys by women’s cooperatives in India, $29-39 at, a member of the Fair Trade Federation.


Bettina said...

Another great bags tip . . . if enough people ask, it is possible to convince your local store to do the right thing, bag-wise. They have the ability to sell canvas or other reusable bags for cost, right there on the checkout line. The bags end up being free to them, and they end up being very cheap to customers as the true cost of such bags is really very little. If they're cheap and available right there at the checkout counter, many customers will go for them. Additionally, they take up a small portion of an existing trucking pipeline already laid down to these stores, rather than adding to the increasing river of traffic that exists to deliver products bought online.

Buying canvas bags - I'm talking about ones for which the material, labor and other costs per unit are negligable, not a beautiful hand-made product - for upwards of $8.00 or $10.00 a pop, does not convince their makers to charge reasonable prices for them, and reinforces bad market practices and raises prices everywhere. Profiteers get the idea that the "traffic will bear" such high prices for such low cost goods. The rebound effect is that the majority of the population then will not buy and use them - why would they, when they are struggling just to buy the groceries, and the disposable bags are "free"? (Kudos to Ikea on making them not be free and for donating the proceeds to help trees.)

Recently I had to go into Stop & Shop for something, and they had these green fake-o fabric bags selling for 99¢. Cheesy? Yes! Better than the plastic or paper options? Of course! I still use mine often, and I tell everyone about it. (It is good to reward the mondo-corps when they do something dood.)

I stopped by the customer service counter on that occasion, to thank them for doing something so incredibly right, and they said that they'd had so many positive comments from all kinds of people (not just environmental types like me) and that they were both pleased and surprised by the positive reaction.

So please, resist those expensive fabric bags, unless they are truly a unique artisanal product hand-made by a person who then of course deserves to make a fair profit for their labors. Most are a mass-produced product, possibly even made in a sweat-shop somewhere. If you're going to buy cheap goods, which is a valid choice, at least be an informed consumer and insist on paying no more than reasonable prices. Of course a better-quality item might last longer and take even less resources in the long run, but heck, there are times when you just can't afford it, or you're there in the checkout line without a bag. Buying a cheap, lesser-quality canvas or synthetic canvas bag is better than the other alternatives available at the moment.

Either way you go, knowing the relative value of the things you buy helps to support green economic practices, just as buying non-disposable items helps spread the idea of green product packaging!

Daniela said...

Hello! We are currently looking for fair-traded and organic cotton shopping bags in order to print something on them for a project. I thought that maybe you have some ideas about where we could get 70 or 80 of them cheaply and where we could print them! I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts with me.

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vivek sadh said... is also a very good site for jute bags.

vivek sadh said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
vivek sadh said...

is also a very good site for bags.