Reusable Bags: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Reusable bags is the FIRST suggestion I make to anyone who wants to reduce their waste.

Why, you ask?

Because we need to carry things every single day! Plastic bags are typically used for only 7-12 minutes (studies vary) and then we recycle them or throw them away.

Most people who choose to recycle plastic bags don’t do it properly (by taking it to a depot in British Columbia) and end up contaminating an entire batch. Like this. Which is sad.

So now that you have absolutely, 100 percent decided that you will never touch a plastic bag again, what should you use instead?

The Good

The best kind of bags, are bags that are made from something that has already been created, bags from a thrift store, or bags made from sturdy, sustainable materials.

These are definitely my favourite ideas:

above: Tote made from repurposed 2010 Olympics banners.

If you are looking for new bags, made from sustainably sourced materials, you have a couple options:

  • Hemp, which grows fairly fast and doesn’t use a lot of water to grow

  • Bamboo, which grows quickly, but uses significantly more water

Both are decent options, and the best part is once they’ve reached the end of their life, just throw them in the compost!

above: Hemp/Organic Cotton blend tote from Sitka (made in Victoria, BC).

The Bad

Cotton and organic cotton are two of the most commonly used materials in “green” products, however both crops use an insane amount of water. When comparing against hemp, cotton to 2-7 times more water from seed to finished product! Regular cotton also uses 16% of the worlds’ insecticides and more pesticides than any other crop.

If you must, choose cotton totes made from organic or recycled cotton, like the string bags from Montreal-based CredoBags.

above: 100% cotton Market String Bag by CredoBags in Montreal.

The Ugly

Not all reusable bags are created equal.

Grocery stores all seem to sell their version of a reusable bag. Unfortunately most of these bags are not made to last, and are often made of plastic. They are typically non-woven, and tear easily at the seams. They also don’t wash very well, and are ugly to boot.

Nylon bags are another bag I suggest avoiding.* They are super durable, but are made of plastic and will never break down. I made the mistake of buying a set the minute I decided to start my zero-waste journey, and although I will use them until they are no longer usable, I regret it every time I pull one out. Learn from my mistakes people!

I have created a printable door hanger to remind you to bring your reusable bags. SO BRING THEM! AND USE THEM! And when you forget, stuff your pockets with potatoes and balance your bananas under your chin and you will NEVER forget to bring them again.**

Saving the world one reusable bag at a time,


*Unless you can find them made from recycled plastic! When we buy recycled plastic, we are supporting the recycling industry. Although the goal of zero waste is little to no recycling, it’s not something that is going to end overnight. Purchasing goods made from recycled materials takes away from companies who make things from new plastics, and is always the better option.

**Personal experience. I had no fewer than three employees ask me 12 times if I needed a bag. I looked like a crazy person, but saving the planet takes sacrifice!