If you don’t actually reuse a reusable supermarket bag, it’s worse for the environment than a plastic bag. We’ve already told you how to choose a reusable bag that you’ll actually use. But what about all the ugly, bulky bags that seem to magically accumulate in every household?
Turn them into someone else’s problem, but in a good way: Use them to collect anything that will leave your house.
Reusable supermarket bags are environmentally friendly, but only if you actually use them, many times. And you're probably not using the crappy "reusable" bags you got from your local Coles or Woolworths, which sit in your kitchen cabinet until you eventually throw them out.
Regift your bags
My sister baked me a pie for my birthday, and I want to give her pie dish back in something nicer than a plastic shopping bag. I have books for one friend, hand-me-down baby clothes for another. So each of them goes into one of my unwanted bags. I can hand off the bag without asking for it back.
It’s the same philosophy I apply to umbrellas: Keep enough around that you can always hand one over to a guest. Reusable bags (and cheap umbrellas and anything else cheap and handy) should feel like communal property that we give and take.
It’s the abundance mentality but for useful junk. You give them one today, they give you one tomorrow, and every various shopping trips keep replenishing your supply.
Donate your bags
I’ve always had a bag at home full of stuff to drop off at a charity op shop. And I always took too long to get it out of the house, so I ended up lugging an overstuffed paper or plastic bag that started to tear apart on the trip to the donation drop-off.
Now I still have an overstuffed bag, but at least it’s a sturdy reusable bag.
I usually have to confirm to the staff that no, I don’t need my bag back. They’re relieved, I’m relieved, and they get to find the next use for a fugly tote.
A representative for New York non-profit Housing Works tells me over email: “Any bag that is dropped off that is reusable, we use. We usually use the large IKEA bags for [big] purchases, and we sell the canvas totes. We run a waste-not-want-not gig here. We even use the disposable bags to stuff shoes and handbags on display.” It's a good bet other charity op shops will have the same philosophy.
This has also helped me abandon all those weird paper shopping bags, the kind you get from clothing stores that feel a little too fancy to immediately trash. Instead of trying to stuff them with giveaways until they rip, I just recycle them or (reluctantly) throw them out.
And now when I buy clothes, I ask for no bag, and I put them into the actually nice reusable bag that I always carry.
Not as actual supermarket or tote bags, but whenever you need to carry a bunch of crap and you don’t want to get your good bags dirty. Uses that don’t require you to carry the bag around everywhere (which these bulky bags are bad for). Use them as a modular bag inside your “real” bag, for your gym clothes or your extra shoes or whatever filthy garbage you’re toting around the world.
These bags are like a pair of stained jeans you wear while painting the walls, or shoes you only put on to mow the lawn: They’re OK to ruin, but strong enough to do the job.
Maybe some day the backlash will finally come for them, and companies won’t keep shoving these bags into our arms. Then you’ll have to find a new way to hold your donations. That’d be a nice problem to have.