Have you ever noticed there are so many different kinds of zero waste produce bags? When you look on Instagram, you’re bound to see a wide array of reusable produce bags – some made from organic cotton, some made from synthetic mesh. But which ones are the best ones? And how do you know which are best for you? I decided it would be pretty helpful to create a whole zero waste produce bags guide. Because lets face it – navigating these things should be easy, not hard. We all want to live a more sustainable life (I’m assuming that’s why you’re here at least) – so it’s my job (and pleasure) to help you do so as easily as possible! Here’s everything you wanted to know about zero waste produce bags, and how to choose the best ones for you (including what I use!).
Why Should I Use Zero Waste Produce Bags?
First and foremost, lets talk about why we should use reusable produce bags to begin with.
For starters, when you go to the supermarket, or even farmers market for that matter, you’ll quite easily find single use produce bags ready for you. They’re extremely thin clear bags you can use to put otherwise loose fruits and veggies in. The problem? They’re also extremely hard to recycle.
This makes them a huge contributor to litter, and they often end up in the landfill or in the environment. Not to mention they’re difficult to reuse because they rip so darn easily.
Yet, the main focus tends to be on eliminating plastic shopping bags, which is unfortunate. While we should all use reusable tote bags for shopping by now, we should also notice the wastefulness of single-use plastic produce bags.
Zero waste reusable produce bags help keep so much waste out of the landfill and the environment – it’s one of those swaps you can’t help loving after making it. Plus, after switching, you instantly realize how much plastic waste you divert with each trip to the grocery store!
How to Switch to Zero Waste Produce Bags – A Simple Guide
If you think you’re ready to quit using plastic bags and make the switch to reusable produce bags, here’s what you need to know.
First up, you’ll have to choose the type of fabric for your produce bag. Different fabrics have different textures and properties, and you may want to have a mix – I personally do. Here’s a quick run through to help you understand what I mean better.
Produce bag fabric types:
- Mesh or net bags – These are lightweight, see-through and tend to be made from synthetic fibers. However, there certainly are some cotton mesh bags available (more on this later). These aren’t suitable for fine powders or flour – they’d fall right through! Best for fresh, loose produce (ex: lettuce, kale, [big] tomatoes, citrus, [big] potatoes, etc.).
- Cotton cloth bags – Natural, slightly heavier, and not see-through. Best for produce and bulk dry goods (like nuts, grains, flours, powders etc.). Since these aren’t transparent, it may slow down the checkout process, since the cashier can’t see what you’re buying immediately.
- Small – These produce bags are fantastic for smaller items like garlic, shallots, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, grains, beans and lentils. However, they’re also great for items you simply want small portions of (for example, when you only want two or three onions but don’t want to use a big produce bag to hold them).
- Medium – Great for bigger produce, and bulk items. Most of my produce bags are this size – I really like this size because it’s fair and well rounded. I can usually fit two small heads of kale into one bag, or one big head of lettuce if I’m careful. Also fantastic for all bulk food items, as long as it’s not made from mesh or net fabric!
- Large – Great for when you plan to get a lot of produce items. My large produce bags can hold up to 14 big apples no problem, and can easily fit a huge head of romaine lettuce without anything sticking out. There might even be room for a second smaller bushel of greens too!
Pro tip: Having an assortment of sizes is best – but definitely have more medium and large sizes, as these are the most versatile.
Caring for your produce bags:
Most zero waste produce bags can be reused quite a few times before they need to be washed. Also, most produce bags can be hand washed and machine washed, making your life much easier. I prefer to hand wash them in the bathroom sink using my DIY powder detergent. Warm water and straight up castile soap works nicely too – I just let my produce bags soak in it for about 10 minutes, in the sink. If your produce bags get stained, I recommend using this zero waste stain stick to get it out. My produce bags have a few light stains but I don’t mind them much – that just means they’re well loved.
Taking these factors into consideration, lets take a look at the various reusable product bags you purchase.
● Cotton produce bags
Personally, I love cotton produce bags the most. I honestly wish I had more of them. They’re great for holding things like flour, powders, and loose grains (assuming they’re not mesh – like the one in the photo above). They’re also fantastic for holding fresh produce – especially big leafy greens or heavier produce items.
You can easily repair them with a quick sew job, and you can just compost them at the end of their life, which is fantastic. You won’t have to for a while though – you get a lot of use out of cotton produce bags, let me tell you. I’ve had mine for about three years now and they’re still kicking.
They’re easy to wash too – you can wash them by hand (which is what I do), and/or machine wash them. Totally your call.
You should definitely consider getting different sizes when shopping for your cotton bags – I would recommend getting more medium and large bags than small, but that’s just me. It depends on what you like to buy. Having a few small bags can come in handy too – like when you’re getting garlic, shallots, mushrooms, etc.
I personally love and use Tiny Yellow Bungalow’s cotton produce bags – she sells ones with cute designs on the front! I have one with a lemon print, and one with an herb bunch print – both are amazing and large bags, so I can use them for nearly everything. They’ve lasted me three years so far!
Cotton cloth produce bags are also excellent for going to the bulk food store with. You can use them for almost everything there without worrying something will slip through. If you put any powders or flours into them though, you’ll definitely have to wash them before using it again – just a heads up! Certainly still beats using plastic.
There are also some cotton produce bags that have mesh netting as well (pictured above) – these are really cute but shouldn’t be used for bulk goods or small items. They’re ideal for bigger items and produce, like big leafy greens. I love these cotton mesh produce bags from Eco Roots!
Here are some cotton produce bags I recommend looking into:
- Tiny Yellow Bungalow – Sells a multitude of cute cotton produce bags with prints on them, like lemons, an herb bunch, mushrooms, carrots and more. I have the ones with the lemon and herb bunch prints!
- Eco Roots – Sells a set of 9 organic cotton reusable produce bags, a zero waste market kit, and individual produce bags (like this French cotton mesh bag, and this organic cotton string bag).
- Life Without Plastic – Sells organic cotton mesh produce bags in medium and large, along with a plastic-free greens bag specifically designed with leafy greens in mind.
- All Cotton and Linen – These reusable mesh cotton produce bags come in a set of 6 with medium, large, and extra large size variations.
- Eco Bags – 3 pack of large cotton reusable produce bags made from 100% cotton in India under the fair trade/fair labor policy.
- Colony Co. – Set of 9 organic cotton mesh produce bags in varying sizes (3 large, 3 medium and 3 small), shipped in plastic-free packaging.
- Organic Cotton Mart – Sells various organic cotton produce bags – like these 100% organic mesh produce bags, and these organic cotton muslin fabric produce bags.
- Simple Ecology – Set of 3 small organic cotton muslin produce bags with tare weight tag and drawstring.
● Plastic mesh produce bags
No, this is not the same thing as using disposable plastic bags. Plastic mesh produce bags are fantastic because they’re reusable and they’re slightly transparent – which makes it easier for the cashier to identify what you’re buying!
I know some people have qualms about going plastic-free and then buying reusables made from plastic. I was the same way – and still kind of am. However, the way I see it, plastic in itself isn’t a terrible thing. It’s the way we use it that matters most – and as long as you know you’ll use it for a long time, it’s not your enemy.
Though, I will say they do sell plastic mesh produce bags made from recycled plastic, which is a fantastic option. Purchasing produce bags made from recycled material helps keep that plastic out of the landfill and environment.
I was gifted this set of reusable grocery bags from Tiny Yellow Bungalow from my best friend. I absolutely love them and use them all the time at the farmers market. They’ve held up for three years now, so I have no complaints what so ever. I use them to hold everything from kale, to apples to beets. They can hold a surprising amount of stuff!
As always, it’s important to consider the size of produce bag you want or need. The ones I have that are plastic mesh produce bags are medium sized. I can usually fit two small to medium kale bunches in each, and about 10 apples in one.
I also use plastic mesh bags at the bulk bins – but only for a select few items. I’ve used them to carry oats, granola, popcorn kernels and halved almonds before – no problem. If the mesh pattern is too big, you shouldn’t attempt this.
Here are some mesh produce bags I recommend looking into:
- Earthwise – set of 9 reusable produce bags made from recycled plastic water bottles that come in 3 different sizes.
- GOGOODA – 15 piece set of reusable produce bags made from BPA-free mesh – 3 large, 9 medium, and 3 small sizes in set.
- Naturally Sensible – Set of 5 red, yellow, green, blue, and purple produce bags made from lightweight nylon mesh – all the same size (medium).
- Tiny Yellow Bungalow – sells a set of five plastic mesh produce bags that are all the same size – medium – making them perfect for an assortment of produce (these are the ones I have!).
● Cotton bulk food bags
There are some zero waste produce bags that are specifically designed for bulk food shopping too. These cotton bulk bags are special because of their flat bottoms. They’ll hold themselves up and not tumble over when you put them on a counter or table which is incredibly handy!
While you can just bring glass jars with you to the bulk food store, that would involve taring them too. Bulk food bags are a lightweight alternative for those who don’t want to lug around huge jars, or bother with taring.
You can actually keep the food you get in these bags, stored in these bags too. You don’t have to transfer them over to another jar when you get home, though you certainly could if you wanted to.
You can use bulk food bags for getting nuts, grains, cereals, seeds, powders and even flours. They’re very versatile, and they will hold themselves up on your counter tops.
Here are some cotton bulk bags worth looking into:
- Life Without Plastic – This online plastic-free shop sells organic cotton flat-bottom bulk bags in small, medium and large sizes.
- Colony Co. – Set of 6 organic cotton bulk food bags in various sizes with stainless steel lock on the drawstring that helps keep the bag closed.
- Tiny Yellow Bungalow – This zero waste online store sells a reusable organic cotton bulk bag that has a roll and snap closure to secure the contents inside.
● DIY zero waste produce bags
If none of these reusable bags seem to strike a cord with you, you can always making your own at home.
You should definitely consider which fabric you’d like to use, if you plan on making your own zero waste produce bags. Second-hand fabric is a great option, such as old t-shirts, old bedding, sheets, net curtains or tablecloths. Using these items help re-purpose them and keep them out of the landfill.
Just make sure, regardless of which fabric you choose, that it’s machine washable and can go through a hot wash – you want to get as much use out of these DIY produce bags after all.
Zero Waste Chef has a really great reusable produce bag tutorial you could try to follow. She goes through how to make one step by step, pictures and all. The video for it is right below too, if you rather just watch that. I find I learn from video better sometimes when it comes to intricate DIYs!
If you’re not good at sewing, or don’t have access to a sewing machine, you could always try making a no sew t-shirt produce bag. I like the video tutorial below best – so simple and low hassle! You just need an old shirt, scissors, and a little creativity.
Since I’m not this level of creative, I’ll pretty much stick with buying my produce bags. Still though, it can certainly be done!
Heck, you could even use old pillowcases to hold produce and secure it closed with a hair tie or rubber band. Just an idea – perfect if you’re on a budget!
What do you think about these plastic free alternatives? Which zero waste produce bags will you try?
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