An Introduction to Reusable Produce Bags
Posted on 01 September 2017 by Leonie Satori
Ok, so you have bought your new reusable produce bags. You have brought them home, composted the packaging and are basking the glow of that warm and fuzzy feeling you have whenever you do good for Mother Earth.
So, reusable produce bags... What are they? How do I use them? How should I not use them? Am I really saving the planet, one plastic bag at a time?
Through greater awareness of how our use of plastic bags influences our environment, many people have become more self-reliant when it comes to grocery bags at the supermarket. Many of us have a supply of reusable shopping bags and grocery bags that we keep in our car or handbag to ensure that there is just one less plastic bag going into landfill. But often when we visit the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket or even when going to the markets, many of us rely on the store owner to provide us with a neat little plastic bag for our beans, snow peas, cherries, or even our broccoli. This plastic bag generally has a short shelf-life, we may use it to store our produce in the fridge, re-purpose it around the home, but inevitably that little plastic bag will start to split or breakdown and will no longer be useful. While some shopping centres and councils will recycle plastic bags, many of them will likely end up in the bin and then in landfill.
Way before we were using plastic bags for just about everything, people used newspaper, paper bags, cardboard boxes and even their own hands to carry their fruit and vegetables home from the store.You may be surprised to find out that reusable produce bags have been around for some time. For many years, there has been an underground movement, of people diligently recycling plastic water bottles that people are disposing of, and making them into reusable veggie bags. Now, thanks to the wonders of television, reusable produce bags have become popular and a topic of conversation at the fruit and veggie section of the supermarket.
So What is a Reusable Produce Bag?
I suppose the term 'reusable produce bag' seems like a big of a vague term, but, when you think about it, it makes sense. A reusable produce bag is any kind of bag that can be used over and over to hold your 'produce' - fruit and vegetables mostly. Produce bags can also be called reusable veggie bags, veggie sacks, fruit & vegetable bags, or fruit & veg bags. Call them what you like, these lightweight little bags have been developed as a reaction to our overzealous reliance on single use disposable plastic produce bags.
Reusable is the keyword here, these produce bags are designed to replace the plastic bags in the fruit and vegetable section of the supermarket. Reusable produce bags can be made from any material, but they need to be lightweight (so there is not additional costs added to your purchase) and convenient to use.
How Do I Use My Reusable Produce Bags?
Just like when you head to the store with your own grocery bags, we suggest that you have your little stash of reusable produce bags with you. I like to keep a box of goodies in the back of my car with my shopping bags and a handful of produce bags (they don't take up much room). I always like to have a few more on hand than I need, so that any impulse vegetable buying doesn't become a plastic bag issue.
Use your reusable produce bag to hold any fruits and vegetables that you purchase, I suggest one bag per fruit or vegetable, so it doesn't become an issue at the checkout. I find that the smaller bags (Onya and Ever Eco) work well for smaller items such as beans or snow peas and the bigger bags (Fruity Sacks) are great for those bulkier items such as broccoli or a couple of kilograms of apples. Once you have your produce in your bags, you simply put the items through the checkout as you normally would do when using single use plastic bags.
Once you have your produce at home, we suggest that you unpack and sort through the appropriate storage options for your purchases. Read on further for the limitations of reusable produce bags.
Are There Different Types of Reusable Produce Bags?
Yes, each manufacturer will have slight variations on the concept of a reusable produce bag, though at this stage, there are only a couple of real differences with produce bags.
The most basic reusable produce bag can be made from cotton, hemp or other natural fibres, this type of produce bag is good for onions and potatoes, but the downsides are that you cannot see your produce through the fabric, they may take longer to dry and tend to weigh a little more than the mesh ones.
Open weave fabrics make practical and lightweight reusable produce bags, these are the types that we favour in our health store in Lismore. Two brands: Onya and Ever Eco make use of recycled plastic bottles to fashion beautifully functional produce bags that are see-through and easy to stuff into your handbag. Onya Produce Bags come in packs of 5 or 8 and include a nifty pouch and carabiner attached for easy transport. Our newest reusable produce bags are Fruity Sacks (pictured above), these guys have chosen to make their produce bags from equally lightweight polyester fibres and they have made a substantially larger bag too.
What Makes a Good Reusable Produce Bag?
Now that reusable produce bags have hit the mainstream, there will be many more manufacturers riding the wave of this fashionable trend and we welcome designers and engineers to come up with the most functional reusable produce bags. As with all products, there are advantages and disadvantages with each product manufacturer, and everyone will have a different viewpoint when it comes to special features.
Essentially, we think that reusable produce bags need to be robust enough to withstand multiple usage - so they need to be strong. Secondly, as mentioned earlier, reusable produce bags need to be lightweight, to reduce any unnecessary costs at the checkout. Thirdly, reusable bags need to be easy to clean... you wouldn't want mouldy reusable produce bags now would you?
Am I Really Saving the Planet One Plastic Bag at a Time?
Chances are, if you are reading this article, you have experienced what I like to call 'the invasion of the plastic bags'. Ok, I could have come up with something a little better, but read on, I am sure you know what I mean. Even in a single person household, even when you diligently refuse plastic bags and bring your own, most households end up with a pile of plastic bags that we invariably attempt to reuse and re-purpose to ease our guilt of unnecessary waste. Eventually there comes a time when that pile of plastic bags becomes too big to manage and either needs to be culled or reduced in some way.
You don't need to look too far to see the impact of our wasteful over consumption of single use or disposable plastic bags. Where an individual can reduce their reliance on plastics, they can personally reduce the amount of plastic waste in our landfill, in our streets and cities, in our parklands and in our oceans. Each person, working towards reducing waste can inspire others to become more mindful of their consumption and subsequent waste and nationally and globally we can contribute to making the earth a better place to live. For many of us, this starts with the things that we do on a weekly basis - buying food.
Fruity Sacks manufacturers suggest that you only need to use their reusable produce bags 14 times to break even, environmentally. Manufacturers Onya and Ever Eco make their reusable produce bags out of recycled BPA free PET plastic bottles, so we think Mother Earth would approve of their environmentally frugal bags.
Limitations of the Reusable Produce Bag
On average, we have found that around 80% of people who try reusable produce bags for the first time have the expectation that they are designed to entirely replace plastic bags in your refrigerator. While most reusable produce bags are incredibly good for purchasing your produce from the store or markets, they are not great for storing and keeping your fruits and vegetables fresh. When I came across reusable produce bags some time ago, I experimented with using reusable produce bags for vegetables in our crisper drawer - the results were not pleasing. Although we do encourage experimentation and creativity, please understand that most reusable produce bags (that we have come across) are not suitable for storing your fruit and vegetables long term. Stay tuned for our next article which will be on how to store your fruit and vegetables without plastic bags.
How Can I Re-purpose my Reusable Produce Bags?
We don't think reusable produce bags are limited to just carting your fruit and vegetables home. Lightweight produce bags, such as those made by Onya, Ever Eco and Fruity Sacks have endless multi-purpose functions. Just for some ideas, we were thinking: delicates laundry bag, LunaPads wash bag, vegetable harvest bag, chopped greens wash bag, travel bag (for keeping laundry items separate in your pack when travelling) or scrabble letters bag.
The Final Word on Reusable Produce Bags
The concept of a reusable produce bag is inspiring. I just love that these nifty little bags have boldly stepped into the mainstream, encouraging people to re-think the way that they do their fruit and vegetable shopping. I hope that it is only a short time until people look back at the 'plastic era' and shake their heads with disbelief. The practical steps for reducing our personal plastic waste comes from making only a few simple changes to our behaviour and understanding that our actions have a flow-on affect for many generations.
About the Author
Leonie is a Naturopath & Medical Herbalist with a passion for good food, healthy living and of course, herbal medicine. When she is not consulting in her wellness clinic in Lismore or blogging about nutrition, Ayurvedic Medicine or natural health, she is studying yoga, growing her own herbs and vegetables or quietly walking in the natural bush land in Northern Rivers NSW.
Contact our health centre in Lismore to book an appointment with Leonie in our naturopathic clinic.
The content of this website and any provided materials, research, or communications are for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional health advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your qualified health practitioner with any questions you may have regarding your health condition.