We Get Greener Kit Cassingham & her Bigger Half

Paper or Plastic?

My own, thank you. I bought my first reusable grocery bags in the 1983. I still have them, and use them too. They are rainbow colored string bags -- rainbow in that one's hot pink, another is teal, and another purple. I also have natural colored ones. Add to that starting collection various canvas and recycled woven plastic and I have a most impressive shopping collection of bags.

When I don't have a grocery bag with me I have to face the question, the dilemma even, of paper or plastic. I see, and am swayed by, both sides of the argument. Some days I hate that!

Here are the pros and cons of each, from my perspective:


  • they can be strong, meaning many reuses
  • they are moisture-proof, holding moisture in, or out, as appropriate
  • they are reusable for grocery shopping
  • they can be reused for collecting cat litter, or dog poop
  • they have handles to make carrying stuff easier
  • generally requires petroleum for production
  • manufacturing process is polluting
  • doesn't decompose (quickly)
  • hard to digest (for wildlife)
  • don't reuse well
  • easily swallowed
  • suffocates kids and pets


  • compost easily
  • don't suffocate children or pets
  • recyclable
  • ripen fruit
  • reusable for wrapping packages and gifts
  • can have handles to aid carrying
  • manufacturing process is polluting
  • don't hold moisture, in or out
  • rip easily, usually at the most inconvenient time
  • paper cuts
  • limited number of reuses

What it comes down to for me, when I need a shopping bag is make the decision based on which resource I need. I have now added a mesh grocery bag to my suitcase and have a nylon bag in my car to reduce the number of times I have to make this choice.

Shopping Bags
Reusable Shopping Bags My collection of durable shopping bags, which I leave in the back of my car.
The pros of a durable grocery bag include:
  • numerous reuses
  • long lasting
  • hold moisture in or out
  • don't endanger children or pets
  • handles make them easy to carry
  • expandable so can carry lots of product

Randy has slowly moved more and more toward the no-paper/no-plastic side. I gave him several reusable grocery bags for Christmas several years ago, hoping to influence him and make it easier for him to quit using plastic bags. That didn't work as well as I would have liked, but over time he has remembered to take the reusable bags into the grocery store with him, and even got a couple of more so he always has enough when he buys groceries.

I think that grocery stores should charge customers for every bag they use, like they do in Europe. When I went to Europe for the first time my sister warned me we'd be charged at the grocery store for not having our own bag. I instantly loved the idea and have hoped since then the US would adopt that same approach. That's why I bought my string bags back in 1983 -- to relive my French shopping experience and to green that portion of my life.

Now I want us to start reusing plastic produce bags to get greener.



You hopeless, incurable romantic, you! Grocery bags for Christmas?

I'll do you one better. One year I got post-hole diggers for Christmas! (Actually, that was what I wanted!)

My mother-in-law, who passed away last year at age 99, up til the day she died, she cut up her cereal boxes and used the front and back for all kinds of things: notepads, fans, you name it! She also saved the bag inside and used it like we would a zip-lock bag. I know I threw out a thousand of those cardboard pieces. And at least 2000 yogurt containers.

I found your site through "This is True." I'm enjoying some of these articles.
Thanks, Randy, for introducing me to this site.


Kathi Harris at April 24, 2010 10:51 AM

Not sure if you have Aldi's food stores near you, but they charge for bags and recommend reusable ones. My wife has taken to keeping several reusable bags in her car, and actually using them (me, I have them... but rarely remember to bring them into the store...).

Rich at April 24, 2010 10:53 AM


Romantic fools seem to run rampant around here.

I bought Randy a chain saw for his birthday eight years ago. I don't remember if he's ever used it, but I sure have. What a great gift that was! I'm so "considerate". :~D


Kit Cassingham at April 24, 2010 10:55 AM

Of course I have used the chain saw! But not as much as you have, dear.

The Bigger Half at April 24, 2010 11:40 AM

You can make reusable vegetable bags for produce using net tulle. It works great and they can be rinsed and reused, practically forever. I made mine with drawstring tops using shoelaces but you can just make a simple bag and use the twist ties. It is still much better than using the plastic.

GJ at April 24, 2010 2:28 PM


That sounds really good. I've been saving the mesh bags some fruit and vegetables (like avocados, lemons and tomatoes) come in to use. I hadn't thought of making my own.

That sounds like a Quirky Kit article for later!

Thanks for the suggestion, GJ!


Kit Cassingham at April 24, 2010 2:31 PM

I actually found the mesh bags with drawstrings sold in a three pack at dollar tree. (go figure!) they aren't marketed as produce bags, but I quickly figured out that's what they are best for.

JenO at April 25, 2010 4:17 PM

Oh, buying 3 for $1 is better than making them yourself! That's energy conservation in action!! :~D


Kit Cassingham at April 25, 2010 4:21 PM

I've tried to influence my husband to use our re-usable shopping bags, with mixed results. Often, when we shop together, he makes a joke out of it, laughing when I forget the bags; when he goes shopping alone, he adamantly refuses to use them. I stopped arguing my point a few weeks ago (resorting instead to gentle disappointed sighs), and lo and behold! he's started actually using them now. I was even tactful enough not to mention it, for fear that he'd be stubborn and stop. I'll get him to think green yet!!

Heather at April 26, 2010 10:23 AM

I have a couple of bags that fold up into tiny storage pouches (one has the pouch built-in). I try to keep them in my jacket pockets for impulse purchases.

Many Canadian stores now charge 5 cents for a plastic bag, so reusables are making a dent, here. One chain also sells a plastic bin/basket for a few dollars. Four bins fit in a shopping cart.

I have string bags over 20 years old also. I remember my grandmother in Scotland not being able to find a bag in the house one day, so she got out a crochet hook and a ball of string and made one in a few minutes. I don't have that one, alas.

Henry Troup at April 27, 2010 9:24 AM

Henry, do you think, from your experience here, that five cents is enough charge for shopping bags from the store? The bin idea sounds interesting. I can't quite picture it, but in my next Canadian visit I'll have to go grocery shopping!

Too bad about not having your grandmother's handmade string bags. That would be really cool.


Kit Cassingham at April 27, 2010 10:23 PM

We've been fans of reusable bags for years, but recently we've been taken to a new level. My son's girlfriend makes reusable bags from old plastic grocery bags. She cuts them cross-ways into 1/2 wide inch loops, links the loops into long strings and crochets them into bags with handles.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, in order of importance.


Ed Justice at April 29, 2010 3:30 PM

Ed, that's as very cool concept. If I could crochet anything more than a string I'd consider doing that. But then, I'm busy enough without adding another task. I guess it's good that I can't crochet.

Any chance of getting a picture of at least the finished product, if not also the "raw" materials?


Kit Cassingham at April 29, 2010 3:39 PM

At Whole Foods in Dallas, they take the positive reinforcement approach and give you a "rebate" for bringing in your own bag. I think it's 50 cents a bag, but I haven't had the good fortune of being able to go since November, so don't remember exactly.

Kay at April 30, 2010 9:11 AM

Been using reusable bags for years - canvas bags. When we forget, we use paper. I don't find the grocery plastic bags that "reusable" while paper bags can hold our paper recycling until we take it to the dump. But we rarely forget the canvas bags these days! Snagged a census canvas bag recently to add to the collection.

Oh, for wine and bottled water (can't convince my husband to give up his fizzy water) we use cardboard packs that hold six bottles. They can be reused a lot before ending up in the cardboard recycling, and they're sturdier than cloth bags made for that purpose.

Anne at May 1, 2010 8:24 AM

ChicoBags are the best! They are nylon bags that compress into their own little stuff sacs. They fit easily into my purse. I have lots of reusable grocery bags, but they often get filled up with sports equipment, mail, cats, etc, and then it takes me a few days to get them back to the car so they're ready for the next expedition. My ChicoBags just go directly back into my purse as soon as they're unloaded.

Cathy at May 1, 2010 10:41 AM

These are some great ideas!! THANKS!!

ED KNOX at May 1, 2010 10:44 AM

Many stores give credit for bringing in your own bags (7 cents per bag in my area).

Lou Jones at May 1, 2010 1:05 PM

I went to Target last week and the cashier told me I got a 5 cents rebate for each reusable bag I brought in and used. I wish more stores would do that.

I've been using them for several years and love them. I keep a stash in the trunk of my car for unexpected stops. I have a couple in the front seat beside me so I won't forget them when going into a store. When I get them unloaded, I hang them on the doorknob so I can grab them and throw them in the car next time I go out. Most stores around here keep the bags near the cash register and they're only 99 cents, I can pick up a couple if I run short.

Publix sold Christmas-decorated bags last year and guess who received all their gifts in the decorated bags? :o) They're cheaper than most gift bags!

I am still reusing the thousands of plastic bags I collected over the years for lining trash cans, cleaning out the litter box and toting crushed aluminum cans to the recycling center. I'm not sure what I'll do when they run out in a couple of years!

Marie at May 2, 2010 2:49 PM

Lou, I know many stores pay you to bring your own bags. I don't think that's enough, though. People tend to respond to money out of their pockets more than money into their pockets. Since I think the majority of people don't bring their own durable/reusable bags, I think the way to change that is to charge people for the bags they get from the store.

I do appreciate the little gesture of being paid for my bags, but that's not enough for most shoppers, IMHO.


Kit Cassingham at May 2, 2010 7:34 PM

Marie, I guess when your stash is gone you'll either have to buy another person's stash, or "change your evil ways". :~>

My Bigger Half and I are just about plastic bag free. We drop waste directly into trash cans which then get dumped into a plastic-lined (the plastic is bio-degradable) garbage can (we dumped trash in their directly for years, but after years of being drug down the road and abused by the trash guys, it's broken to use without a plastic bag). Cat litter is cleaned into a bucket -- though an empty litter bucket would work just as well -- and then dumped into the garbage can. It's easier for My Bigger Half to take the plastic bag to the corner than the trash can too.

It works for us. You'll find your system.


Kit Cassingham at May 2, 2010 7:48 PM

IF people aren't washing their bags frequently they are risking food poisoning... FYI
Gee, you two wold be fun to have over for dinner! In case you ever make it to Portland!

JoLee Schultz at May 3, 2010 8:31 PM


It never ceases to amaze me what warnings and terrors lie in wait for unsuspecting people. Common sense should prevail in how people use their bags, but if common sense were common, every one (more, anyway) would have it.

So, let's use this space to remind people to wash their bags when they are dirty.

Thanks for the link!


Kit Cassingham at May 3, 2010 9:51 PM

Anyone know how to do the reusable bags with the self-checkout lanes? the machine screams at you: "unexpected item in the bagging area!"

Jackie G. at May 4, 2010 5:45 AM

Jackie, Sometimes we don't have that problem if we put the bags on the hooks before starting to check out. Each machine location is different, it seems, as sometimes there's a button to say you have your own bags, sometimes the attendant has to signal the system it's ok, and sometimes you just have to circumvent the system by staking your goods on the bag scale and bag later.

It's become a game with me to figure it out with the least hassle.


Kit Cassingham at May 4, 2010 8:18 AM

We have some large canvas bags that we got at costco years ago. My favorite thing about them is I can do a significant shopping run without a cart. I like to be quick and nimble in the store. It irritates me when I get to the counter and the bagger fills each one about 1/4 full and then starts filling plastic bags. "Excuse me, I got through the entire store with those bags just fine!" It amazes me how many people get a look of disbelief that I do not need help, nor do I need a cart to carry those 3 or 4 bags to the car.

Jeremy Jerome at May 4, 2010 2:43 PM

Backpacks can hold an AMAZING amount of groceries! I NEVER remember to grab bags before leaving my house and frankly I grocery shop infrequently enough that keeping bags in my truck is just not a useful idea. There is to much other stuff that lives there!

BUT! I often use a smallish backpack to keep my days 'stuff' together. Water bottle (a reusable metal one!), sweatshirt (thrift store find!), lunch, etc. So there have been times all that has been emptied on the the seat of the truck and I take the backpack in. Besides, it's fun to watch the checkers face when you fit that much into a back pack!

I also really like that one of our smaller stores around here has size sorted bins near the checkout that they put they're cardboard boxes in when they stock the store. So I can grab a large box there when I pick up groceries and then take it with me to the big store where I do the rest of my shopping! No more cereal boxes blowing away from the back of the truck on the highway when I'm headed home!

Ruth Stewart at July 31, 2010 9:59 PM


Cool ideas! I use the boxes from the Big Box Stores, but hadn't thought to use them at the little stores. I do think I'll stick to my bags though, they use fewer resources and are quite reusable. And besides, I don't have a truck bed to worry about.

Your story of employee reactions to stuffing all that into your backpack reminds me of my ScottEVest with 21 pockets. I have used it as my purse and shopping back for years. It amazes store clerks at how much I can tuck into my pockets when leaving the register. :~) It's so much fun!


Kit Cassingham at August 2, 2010 10:37 AM

Awesome ideas! Nice website Kit!

Justen W at April 22, 2014 6:33 PM
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