The 8 Best Eco-Friendly Reusable Grocery Bags of 2020
A planet-friendly way to shop
Reusable bags are here to stay. Slowly but surely, pollution-causing disposable bags are being phased out, city by city and country by country. Canvas, nylon, polyester, or recycled plastic bags are not just eco-friendly, but they can also hold a lot more stuff than flimsy high-density polyethylene (HDPE). They’re also much more comfortable to carry, either over the shoulder or in the hand.
But the point of a reusable bag is that it will stand the test of time—not just a few, but hundreds of trips to the supermarket. Otherwise, it’s just contributing to the waste problem we are already grappling with. Ideally, reusable bags should be made from an environmentally preferable material—but durability has to be first; an ‘eco’ bag that has to be replaced after 10 uses is, lifecycle-wise, less environmentally friendly than one that’s made from plastic but lasts 1,000 uses or more.
Look for bags that are easily washable, both for the inevitable spills and smears that will occur and also for basic hygiene—you’re often carrying food in them, after all. And since we’re going to be using our reusable bags for many years, they should look good, too. What that means depends on your style, of course, but it’s a truism about human beings that we will use things we find appealing more than those we find unattractive. Ahead, our recommendations for the best reusable bags for groceries and more.
Best Overall: ChicoBag Original Tote
Courtesy of ChicoBags
ChicoBags hits all the sustainability marks and then some: Made from 100 percent recycled polyester (from recycled soda bottles), ChicoBags carry up to 25 pounds and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Each has its own pouch—and each pouch includes a carabiner so it can be attached to keys, a belt, or another bag. They’re inexpensive, at around $6 each or $24 for a four-pack, and reviewers report using them for 13 and 14 years—and they’re still going.
Tip: By now, remembering our bags at the grocery store has become a habit for many of us. (It doesn’t hurt that many supermarkets have signs reminding us to bring them in.) But remembering them at other times can be a challenge—the simplest way is not to forget? Keep bags in your bag. Or your pocket, on your keychain, or in the bowls with your keys and sunglasses by the front door.
Most reusable bags are designed from light material that can easily roll up to be secured with a band or snap, and others will fold into a pocket that’s made from part of the bag itself, a separate pouch. So they won’t take up a lot of space—when you unpack, just throw them right back into your bag or clip them back onto your keychain. Canvas bags are the exception here as they less easily collapse, but they can be slung over the shoulder while empty and still look great (plus you can put a couple of extra bags in the otherwise empty one). Do what works for your life and style.
Best Budget: BeeGreen Reusable Grocery Bag
At less than $20 for 10, these basic-but-still-colorful bags are a bargain. The flat-bottomed design can carry up to 50 pounds, and each one wraps up into a tiny roll. Reinforced handles are long enough to hang over your shoulders for easier carrying. They're machine washable and come with a one-year no-rip guarantee. Reviewers rave about their durability and comfortability on shoulders for carting heavy loads.
Courtesy of Amazon
Best Large-Capacity: Big Baggu
The Big Baggu lives up to its name. Able to hold up to 50 pounds, it’s generously sized at 33 inches tall. It can be worn over the shoulder for easier hauling, and all Baggu bags (they make kids- and medium-sized bags, too) are made from ripstop nylon that’s 40 percent recycled from pre-consumer waste. The seams are double-stitched, and the bag body is made from one continuous piece of fabric, lending strength to the design.
Courtesy of Baggu
If you need a bag for individual purchases or for smaller items you don’t want to get lost in a big bag—or need a bag sized for smaller bodies—Baby Baggu bags are just the ticket. Again made with ripstop nylon that’s 40 percent pre-consumer recycled, these miniature versions can still hold 50 pounds like the bigger Baggu. Think lunch, kids' books, a six-pack of soda, the list of possibilities goes on.
Courtesy of Baggu
Best for Heaviest Loads: L.L. Bean Boat and Tote
These iconic canvas bags have handles that are tested to hold up to 500 pounds, as they were originally designed in 1944 to haul ice. They come in a variety of sizes (and two handle lengths), can be monogrammed for $8, and last for decades. Made in Maine, they are bulky but do fold flat-ish, so they're great when riding in the car or on a bike (the smaller version with the short handles can balance on handlebars well) but not really for carrying around on a regular basis while on foot.
Courtesy of L.L. Bean
Since 2004, Envirosax has been making bags out of polyester that’s water-resistant and printed with lead-free and low-impact dyes. The regular size carries up to 44 pounds of weight and is so tough it can last for a decade or longer. Seriously, you can spill everything imaginable in these bags, wash and dry them every which way, and they'll hold their color and shape. The company has dozens of prints as well as print collections to fit anyone’s personal style, from classic designs to modern, art-inspired (check out the Met Museum collection), and more, and styles are always changing.
Courtesy of Envirosax
Made from 100 percent organic cotton canvas, these bags have nice long handles for comfortable shoulder-carrying. The flat bottoms allow for easier packing but still fold flat for storage. EcoBags is a woman-owned, certified B-corporation (with a triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Profit) and has been working with its factory in India for over 20 years, ensuring both fair pay for workers and extended health coverage, retirement benefits, vacations, and holidays for employees.
Courtesy of EcoBags
A Note on Totes: Canvas bags are ubiquitous, given away for magazine subscriptions and nonprofit donations and promotions. Many of us end up with a collection of these bags, but are they eco-friendly? They can be, but look for organic cotton if you are going to buy them, and opt for lighter-weight bags that can fold and be carried easily. While growing cotton does use a lot of water to grow, it’s also biodegradable (as long as it’s 100 percent cotton), which is an advantage that canvas bags have over any that are made from polyester or nylon, which won’t degrade.
“While organic cotton is better, both conventional and organic cotton use a significant amount of water, so the environmental impact of the fabric bag is directly proportional to its weight,” as energy and sustainability management consultant Pablo Päster once wrote in his Treehugger column, "Ask Pablo."
Best Hemp: Rawganique Deluxe Hemp Shopping Bag Market Tote
Hemp grows quickly without the need for pesticides or herbicides and uses half as much water and land to grow as cotton—and it’s also an incredibly strong fiber, which makes it ideal for making bags to haul stuff. It wears well over time, becoming soft to the touch with washing and use, and it won’t quit after years of use. Even when the bag does reach the end of its life, hemp is biodegradable in a compost heap.
This Rawganique bag is made fairly in Europe at the company’s headquarters and has an exterior zippered pocket for small items, as well as nice long straps for shoulder-carrying.
Courtesy of Rawganique
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Starre Vartan has been covering sustainable consumer products for 15 years, 10 of those with Treehugger (under the MNN brand). She’s also a science writer who has covered biotech, astrobiology, animals, women’s health, and space for a variety of publications including Scientific American and National Geographic. She has personally tested compostable packaging in her backyard compost heap, a variety of solar chargers, hybrid cars, and other products meant to leave a lighter footprint.