ah, the ubiquitous plastic bag. it might seem impossible to imagine a world without this ugly, wasteful litter, but single-use plastic bags are a relatively new phenomenon. our grandparents weren’t walking around carrying plastic bags; they carried their own, durable bags to the market, or left with paper bags that would get reused.
plastic bags as we know them, (cheap, fragile, and made from natural gas or petroleum), only came onto the scene in the late 70s courtesy of exxon mobile, and we haven’t looked back until recently (a brief history of the plastic bag). not only are these bags wasteful by design, but their very production methods are incredibly harmful to our environment. plastic bags can take centuries to decompose, they endanger animals by polluting their ecosystems and sometimes being mistaken for food (plastic bags in the ocean look like jelly fish, a favorite food of many types of sea turtles!), and have even been known to block drains and cause floods in highly polluted areas.
plastic bags are problematic too, because while they can technically be recycled, they are not usually recyclable through your regular curbside pickup. the thin bags get caught in the machines and require workers to pull them out by hand, wasting a whole lot of time + effort. for the most part, these bags should be recycled via the recycling receptacles you sometimes see out front of many local grocery stores. (i always wondered why they had special areas for recycling just plastic bags, now i know!)
needless to say, such waste is absolutely unnecessary, especially when there are so many great chic + sustainable options!
1. HAE NOW PRINTED DELI TOTE, $12
hae now is deeply committed to sustainability. their bags are made from cotton that is grown on organic and bio-dynamic farms. they reduce their carbon footprint by purchasing carbon offsets, reusing or recycling packaging materials, and using low-impact cotton processing methods that help “reduce water, electric use, and toxic runoff” (about us). they use non-chlorine bleach, and azo-free dyes. they even recycle fabric scraps into paper, and recycle water for landscaping their premises.
all of hae now’s products are also fair trade certified, meaning they have high standards of production: workers are ensured fair wages, benefits, and a safe working environment. fair trade also promises that all workers are adults working of their own volition.
2. BAGGU CANVAS SHOPPER, $36
baggu offers reusable bags that are durable and come in many shapes, sizes, and colors. while they are best known for their iconic brightly colored and patterned nylon shoulder bags, they also offer a line of totes made from 100% recycled cotton which are great for shopping or just carrying around a few essentials for a day out. using recycled materials means less waste in our landfills, and it lessens the demand for new materials to be made. this canvas tote has an inner pocket, as well as a snap closure at top. baggu offers such a wide array of cute bags, (watermelons anyone?), at such reasonable prices that it’s really hard to go wrong. (just watch out for their leather bags though, blech!)
baggu’s canvas and nylon bags are made in china, where they undergo yearly audits performed by an independent third-party to ensure that the workplaces meet the bsci code of conduct, which calls for safe environment for workers, decent working hours, ethical business behavior, no child labor, and the right for workers to collectively bargain, among other rights.
3. PROJECT GREENBAG RECYCLE BAG, $17
project greenbag is based in san francisco, california, where all their bags are made. their bags are strong, (they can carry up to 50 lbs!), and made from soft 100% organic cotton, which is a highly sustainable and water-responsible crop. if that doesn’t sell you, then the chic and attractive designs surely will– they currently offer 9 different graphics.
4. ECOBAGS STRING BAGS, $7
these string totes are perfect for market day. they scrunch up small, but open out to be quite roomy! because they are woven, they are very light, but still able to hold up to forty pounds. string bags are made of natural cotton, and they even offer some varieties that are 100% organic. their cotton bags are all dyed with azo free and lead-free dyes, and they’re a great sustainable option for reducing plastic waste. ecobags is a certified b corp company, which means they have met “rigorous standards of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency,” and their bags are made with fair wage and fair labor practices (what are b corps?).
5. TORRAIN SIMPLE SQUARE TOTE, $22
torrain was started in 2009 when founder nyla jano came upon a woman in cambodia who had been upcycling rice, animal feed, and cement bags into hardy, sewn reusable bags. jano collaborated with the cambodian woman, and they began making bags of jano’s design, recruiting other cambodian artisans and eventually also offering a line of bags produced entirely in america. products are made from 100% reused and recycled materials, most of which come from salvaged bags, though some are also made from magazines. because of the diverse nature of the donated or reclaimed bags, each bag is unique, and many of the bags are even waterproof. they offer an assortment of tote bags, shoulder bags, duffel bags, backpacks, and more.
6. MAPTOTE GROCERY TOTE, $18
all maptote bags are manufactured, made, and hand silk screened in the brooklyn, ny area. bags are 100% cotton, so they’re biodegradable, and completely plastic free. they carry many different kinds of bags, from market size totes with short handles, to crossbody bags with long straps, beach size bags, travel pouches, and even wine tote bags! their design are largely of the geographic nature (hence the name ‘maptote’), and they currently feature over 70 different locales.
7. BOLGA BASKET TOTE, $52
this beautiful market tote is made by women artisans in bolgotanga, ghana. basket weaving is a traditional craft that serves as an important source of livelihood in this very impoverished region. tradeaid is a nonprofit that offers these artisans a steady income with fair trade wages, shelter in bad weather, professional and managerial training, as well as access to raw materials and marketing outlets.
8. CHICOBAG VITA, $13
chicobag strives to help create a world where plastic pollution doesn’t exist. chicobag is a b corp-certified company, and has also been voted as best for the world environmental impact for 2 years in a row. their bags are made in china, where they actively support fair labor workplace standards. they are a class c licensee of the fair labor association, and perform announced and unannounced third-party independent audits of the working conditions to ensure compliance.
so next time you’re heading to the market, grab a few of these bags first! i keep a couple of bags in the back seat of my car, and a few that scrunch up small stay right in my glove box. they’re convenient, attractive, and most importantly, an important step in reducing waste!