One small eco-friendly thing that I try to do is cut down on the amount of plastic I use. Plastic takes forever (about 1,000 years) to decompose. No bottled water for me. And no plastic bags, especially the flimsy one-use kind. Sure, they’re recyclable, but only if they’re clean. And how many people don’t bother to recycle or don’t have access to recycling? (A 2016 Pew Research Center survey found that only 28% of Americans live in a community where social norms strongly encourage recycling and re-use.) Plastic bags pose such a threat to the environment that some governments have banned them. I live in San Francisco, the first major American city to ban the use of plastic bags. Rwanda’s ban is super strict. “Traffickers caught carrying illegal plastic are liable to be fined, jailed, or forced to make public confessions,” The New York Times reports.
I started carrying my own reusable shopping bag years ago (I reviewed my favorite kind here), but what about produce bags at the grocery store? My local Whole Foods provides a roll of compostable bags — but only one roll located near the bins of broccoli and cauliflower florets. The other bags in their produce area are still regular not-going-to-biodegrade plastic. Other grocery stores don’t carry any compostable bags at all, so if you’re trying to avoid plastic, you have to rely on yourself.
The good news is that many companies make reusable produce bags in a variety of materials, from cotton to nylon. Seven years ago, a friend gifted a set of mesh produce bags to me and I still use them, so I thought I’d share about them.
These polyester mesh bags are made by flip & tumble, a certified Green America Business based here in the San Francisco Bay Area. While it’s true that polyester isn’t great for the environment either — it’s made from petroleum and also doesn’t biodegrade in any timely fashion — I estimate that in seven years of using these bags, I’ve avoided about 1,000 plastic bags.
These bags are strong and light (just .4 of an ounce). They close with a drawstring and they’re a good size — I’ve stuffed leafy greens into them. Because they’re mesh, I can see what’s in my bags and the produce gets circulation. (How many times have you pulled slimy produce from a plastic bag? Gross.) They’re also easy to wash. Just throw them in the laundry and let them air dry. Did I mention that they’re durable and that I’ve used them for seven years? The company says the bags are ethically made in China. Lastly, the price is right. A set of five 12″ x 14″ bags sells for $12.
I keep these bags stashed away in my reusable grocery bag so that I’m always ready for a trip to the grocery store or farmers market.
If you’d rather not use synthetic mesh, there are other produce bags out there made from natural fibers, such as cotton. I’m kind of curious about the Vejibag, which is made from an organic cotton terry knit. This writer says it keeps her veggies fresh longer. I don’t think they’d work well for me since I’m a visual person and need to see what’s stored in the bags at a glance. (That brand is also pricey, though organic cotton terry knit does sound luxurious.) Whatever you choose, the most important thing is to make the switch from plastic to reusable. It’s crazy to me that so many people use a bag once and then throw it away. Worldwide, less than 5% of plastic is recycled. I try to do my part and I hope you’ll consider it too. May our small actions add up!