Nothing says “I care about the environment” more than bringing your own bags when you shop.

Two BagsThe concept started decades ago with the advent of health food co-ops, and is finally starting to catch on worldwide. For a while the debate was paper vs. plastic—both have environmental impact—but the push now is for consumers to bring their own reusable bags. Some cities have banned plastic bags entirely, and even discourage the use of paper bags. Others are on the move to reduce the use of plastic bags, if not banning them outright. Their impact on the environment is beyond debate.

Rather than fight, I suggest embracing the concept. There’s tons of articles on the whys of reusable bags. I’ve been using my own to shop since the 1980s. There’s a bevy of bags available—from high-end, trendy styles to marketing giveaways. They all have their strengths and weaknesses (sometimes literally). I began with the quintessential European market string bag—great for rounded items like loaves of artisan bread, but not so hot for a heavy box of laundry detergent. They tore, and were not easy to fix. Small items could fall through the holes. Mine are now used to hold onions and potatoes in my pantry.

Back w ListI switched to canvas totes with long handles. Their structure made bagging easier, and I could carry two on each shoulder without worrying about them breaking. You don’t have to spend a fortune, though you certainly can. I got mine from different sources: conference and community fair giveaways, the local food co-op, and thrift stores. Once friends knew I used them, I even got a few as gifts. For the crafty, there are tons of free patterns available online to sew, knit, or crochet your own.

As the concept caught on, bags started showing up everywhere—everything from canvas to flimsy composite fabric—even recycled plastic. I have some of each, but favor the canvas. They hold up longer, rarely rip, and launder well. You DO have to wash reusable bags on a regular basis; I throw mine in with the dish towels and such. And, I always put meat and produce in the plastic bags found on their aisles, to reduce the chance of contamination.

Purse & BagTo make sure I use my bags, I keep a bunch in the trunk of the car, and even have a nifty roll-up one that fits in my purse. Now that Seattle has joined the plastic bag ban, I’m no longer an oddity. I’m waiting for the day when I never hear “paper or plastic?” again—wherever I go.