Reusable Shopping Bags

Reusable Shopping Bags

Paris supermarkets stopped giving away plastic bags for free last year. The deal is this: you can either 1- bring your own shopping bag, 2- purchase a jumbo reusable plastic bag, or 3- purchase a flimsy plastic bag if you really insist.

Despite the corporate claim that they’re pretty (um, hello?), the jumbo reusable plastic bags they sell at my supermarket are ugly. But I admit they’re sturdy and very large, which makes them handy when you have a lot of stuff to buy, or a lot of stuff to lug around for other purposes, like take junk down to the basement.

For the rest of my food shopping, however, when I buy things from smaller shops (they still give away plastic bags), or for impromptu purchases when I’m out and about, I keep a reusable tote bag in my purse.

In fact, I have two. The first one is a brown tote bag with curly pink lettering that I bought at Monoprix a while ago: it comes with a little pouch in which to stow the folded bag when not in use. The second one is a blue flip & tumble bag, which was sent to me by its designers, recent graduates of a design program at Stanford University. This one you scrunch up into a ball and flip unto itself — not unlike a pair of socks.

Both serve me well, as they are lightweight, have a larger capacity than they appear, and are comfortable to carry. And call me smug, but it always gives me great satisfaction to stop sales attendants mid-gesture and say, “I won’t be needing a bag for this, thank you,” as my magic tote bag materializes where there formerly was none.

And just because a little green proselytization never hurts, I sometimes add, with a smile, “I’m trying to save the planet.” I like to think that it makes the other customers feel just a little bad about the five plastic bags they have entwined in their fingers, and that they privately vow to start carrying a reusable shopping bag in their purse, too.

(It is a lot more likely that no one notices, or gives a fig, but I am endlessly entertained by the imaginary thoughts I put in strangers’ heads, and I’d be grateful if you didn’t ruin it for me.)

I have another set of shopping bags for use at the greenmarket, where my purchases are too bulky for these tote bags, and where I need baskets that will wait patiently at my feet, without spilling their contents onto the sidewalk while I choose my heads of lettuce or grapple for change.

I ordinarily bring two such shopping baskets. One is tall and narrow and it fits snugly in the basket of my bike (yes! I bought a bicycle! it has a wire basket in the front! and a pretty bell that scares away pigeons and toddlers!). The other is large and flowery and I hang it precariously on the left handle of my bike, which forces me to pedal with the very tip of my left foot so my knee won’t keep banging into my organic strawberries. Perhaps I should acquire a little trailer for my bike, or possibly a sidecar.

The other tree-hugger strategy I’ve adopted I picked up from a veteran tree-hugger I once observed at the greenmarket: I save the ubiquitous brown paper bags in which produce vendors place fruits and vegetables, and bring them back week after week, until finally they tear and have to be replaced (I don’t go so far as mending them with sticky tape).

I do the same with egg boxes, and sometimes score extra points with the egg lady when I collect and return more boxes than I’ll use for my personal egg needs, so she can give them away to other, less provident customers.

In the end, the only places where I still need a plastic bag are butcher shops and fish shops, where the packages might otherwise leak blood and unsavory juices into my basket or fridge. And I confess that, every once in a while, when I buy chocolate or pastries from nice providers, I do accept the attractive paper bags that they offer with the merest purchase.

What about you? What’s the reusable bag situation where you live, and what are your green strategies when it comes to grocery shopping?

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