Canvas Bags Go Mainstream

About the author: Jeff Maurer manages Web content and does communications work for the Office of Solid Waste and Emergency Response. He has been with EPA since 2005

We had a question of the week a little while ago about what type of bags people use at the grocery store. There were a lot of interesting answers, and a lot of creative ideas about how to reuse plastic grocery bags (dog owners, for obvious reasons, seem to be enthusiastic re-users of plastic bags). Our intern counted up the comments responding to the grocery bag question of the week, and posted the final numbers in a followup. Now, I realize that readers of this blog aren’t a random sample of the population, but I think we can still conclude: canvas grocery bags have gone mainstream.

This is great news. We’ve recommended reusable grocery bags on our list of environmental shopping tips for years. I started using canvas bags a couple years ago, and they’re becoming ever more common at my grocery store. For those of you who haven’t yet made the switch, let me share a few things about canvas bags that you might want to know:

Canvas bags hold a lot of stuff. As many of the commenters in the Q&A noted, canvas bags are sturdier than paper bags and hold more than plastic. As a member of a warehouse shopping club, this is a priority for me: a 10-pound tub of gummi bears will decimate your average paper or plastic bag. My canvas bags have a long strap that you can throw over your shoulder, and I’ve also got an insulated one that helps keep cold things cold.

The people working at the store are used to canvas bags. There was a time, long ago, when presenting a bagger with your own bag would unleash utter confusion. When you did manage to explain what you were doing and why, you were viewed as some sort of fringe naturalist, the type of person who lives in a cabin with no plumbing and makes their own clothes out of hemp. Those days are over; plop your canvas bags next to the register nowadays, and everyone knows what to do. Also – and this is in response to something my wife once wondered out loud – it is okay to use bags bearing a certain store’s logo at another store. The 16-year-old kid bagging groceries isn’t getting paid enough to bag groceries AND be the brand identity police.

Canvas bags save money. More and more places are charging a small fee for plastic bags. A couple of stores do it, and a few cities are considering it as well. All of Ireland does it. The charge isn’t much, but neither is a canvas bag: I bought mine for a dollar each. Considering that I’ll probably use them for several decades, it won’t take me long to recoup that investment.