Cloth produce bags: the simple answer to making your grocery shopping much more plastic free. When I first started zero waste, I purchased six mesh bags which I still use to this day. Not the best idea since they won’t decompose, but you live and you learn, eh?

Since then I’ve moved on to experimenting with brands making cloth produce bags with 100% natural fibers as well as making my own with second hand fabrics. The longer you do stuff, the smarter you get!

Whatever option you choose, switching to cloth produce bags is an incredibly simple way to do what we should all know better by now: single-use plastic bags are choking our waterways and clogging the stomachs of our wildlife.

Choose cloth. Here’s how.

1. Buy them

If you’re not DIY-inclined, buying produce bags is an easy, affordable choice.

A word of warning, though: resuable bags are highly wasteful in terms of resources, even though their end-of-life options are generally better. Be ready to commit to your bags for a long time. One 2006 study from the UK Environmental Agency found:

an expenditure of a little less than two kilograms of carbon per HDPE bag. For paper bags, seven uses would be needed to achieve the same per-use ratio. Tote bags made from recycled polypropylene plastic require 26, and cotton tote bags require 327 uses.

I’d assume the numbers would be slightly lower for smaller produce bags, but the point stands: if you purchase reusable bags, use them until you can’t use them anymore -then find a secondary use for them. Treating reusable produce bags similar to single-use bags has no benefit.

I personally like Ecobags – they’re beautifully-made cotton bags that come in a range of sizes based on your needs. Etsy also has tons of reusable cloth produce bags made from linen. For a cheaper version, I’ve used these. They’re not made of natural materials, but they’ve long outlasted any of my cotton or linen versions, so you’re free to make the choice as you see fit!

2. use pillowcases you already have

If you’re planning on getting large amounts of produce, buying loaves of bread, or buying large amounts of bulk product at once, utilizing old (clean!) pillowcases are a great idea. Simply fold them up and toss them in your regular grocery bags.

Two small notes/tips on using pillowcases:

  • if they’re heavier, consider taring them and writing the weight somewhere easily visible. While most pillowcases won’t weigh enough to make too much of a difference (particularly when filled with a large amount of stuff), some thicker ones can be very heavy.
  • throw a rubber band in each pillowcase. It can be bulky/awkward to tie a knot in them; using a rubber band is an easy way to make sure no produce makes an escape! I’m sure you have tons of rubber bands from produce hiding in your drawers, just waiting for a purpose.
3. sew them from fabric you already have

Chances are you already have a bit of spare fabric lying around your house – whether it’s from an old sewing project or an old ratty piece of clothing you no longer wear.

For typical drawstring produce bag, this is a nice, simple tutorial that outlines the process.Those bags are quite large, but you could modify them to any size you think you’d need. The perk of DIY is being able to make the bags whatever sizes work best for you.

If you’re looking for something a little fancier, try this bento bag tutorial I made a while ago. I’ve made tons of these bags and use them for shopping, gift-giving, and lunch bags. They’re super versatile and everyone always talks about how pretty they are!

4. make them from lace curtains

Here is my super-secret, ultimate lazy way to make your own produce bags with little work: lace curtains. They already have the little channel you need to put a string through, so all you have to do is sew up one side and the bottom. Even hand-sewing, the process takes about 5 minutes. Plus, lace is so light you won’t need to think about the bag’s tare weight.

Then you can use the bottom parts for a tablecloth, turn them into more bags, or even use it as a cheesecloth. Just make sure none of it goes to waste!

Have any great brand recommendations? Or have an easy sewing pattern you’d like to share? Drop it in the comments!

Single-use alternatives: ideas for cloth produce bags - Green Indy BlogSingle-use alternatives: ideas for cloth produce bags - Green Indy Blog


Green Indy is a blog about zero waste, minimalism, and generally being less of an a**hole to our Earth (Indianapolis, specifically) by me, Polly Barks. I’m a writer, teacher, and a natural-born researcher/experimenter.

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