Another dopey contest

An article from this morning’s New York Times gives me the inspiration for a new design contest, that of recreating the humble reusable grocery bag. I know my contests are dopey and tend toward the functional, perhaps it’s in protest to the public’s over fascination with all things fashion. Despite the name of this blog, our focus is sewn products since those producers are holding up more than half our sky. Anyway, as it happened yesterday, the city of San Francisco voted to ban some plastic bags.

The ordinance, believed to be the first of its kind in the nation, will remove standard plastic bags from supermarkets and pharmacies with sales of more than $2 million a year, said its author, Supervisor Ross Mirkarimi, who said his city was simply following a worldwide trend toward greener grocers.

“Scores of nations have already gone through this,” said Mr. Mirkarimi, citing similar laws in places including South Africa and Taiwan. “It’s really astounding the United States would be so late in the game to come online to do something that should be common sense.”

The ordinance, which takes effect for grocers in six months, will allow food stores and pharmacies to use biodegradable plastic bags. But opponents say that those bags, which cost more to produce and buy, would simply increase costs for grocers, who already operate on a thin profit margin.

To revisit the topic of the lack of sustainability of paper bags, an entry from Davis Co-op reads

Of course, the trail of paper bags starts in our forests. In 1999, 14 million trees were cut to produce the 10 billion paper grocery bags used by Americans. It’s not surprising that most people prefer paper, believing it is the more responsible choice. Yet, like plastic, paper puts a heavy burden on the environment in terms of production, consumption and disposal.

Manufacturing paper bags requires virgin timber (for greater strength and elasticity), which is processed into heat-treated wood chips. This creates numerous byproducts that pollute waterways and produce greenhouse gases, which are consequently absorbed by fewer trees. In fact, according to the Film and Bag Federation, a trade group within the Society of the Plastics Industry based in Washington, D.C., paper bag production requires more energy, generates more solid waste, produces more atmospheric emissions and releases more waterborne wastes compared to plastic grocery bags.

As far as making the production of reusable grocery bags a viable enterprise, I’m curious about a couple of things. Durability concerns aside, how important is styling and color? How important is price? How many bags does the average consumer use on their heaviest shopping day? I’ve been counting our usage over the past couple of weeks since I’m wondering how many we’d need to buy. How important are additional features such as inside pockets? How about inside labels where consumers could note their contact information in the event the bags are lost? Then, I also think reusable bags could be a marketing opportunity for grocery stores. They could license someone to manufacture bags with their store name and logo. I wonder how many will be proactive and consider the option? Similarly, how many entrepreneurs will consider approaching a local owned grocery to propose an agreement?

As far as design considerations go -something to consider for your entry in the contest- beyond obvious issues such as construction integrity, how will your bags be shaped? I’m rather partial to this one ($9.95) which is shaped like the current ubiquitous plastic bag because it can be used on existing bag loading frames. One reviewer of this bag says they wish the bags were larger and I also think sales might be better for this item if they showed the red, yellow or blue bags rather than the industrial black. Black rarely photographs well.

There are also the traditional bag options that are shaped like paper bags but with handles. I don’t think those would have the structural integrity of the bags above and I also wonder how difficult it’d be to manage several bags in each hand.

Anyway, if you’re interested in participating in my newest dopey contest, I’d think the first step would be to survey the current range of options in the market to include design integrity, usability, styling and price. If our winner got geared up for it, we could make the prize a little more interesting this time (other than a free book or free consulting), say a free ad for their product in the sidebar? I have an open purchase order for twelve bags for the winner…

I’ve included three short polls to help participants hit the market. If I left out any questions I should be asking, let me know. Also, feel free to cross post this contest to your blog. I’d think the crafty bloggies might find this a fun project, anyone can enter. The more the merrier.

[edit] Joan mentions I neglected to set a deadline. Let’s make it June 1st. However, I prefer to get submissions as you complete them. I post them on the blog as they come in case you’re new to these parts. Sometimes I batch them, a couple of entries to one post. You can be anonymous if you like but include your contact info and phone number. If you have a website, mention whether I can link to you or not.

This must be a product you designed. It can’t be a product that you are retailing, made by another party. Now, the other party can submit an entry subject to the conditions below.

Generally the stuff you submit are photos of the finished product and a mini pattern. You can also include process details and photos of the product in process. Since this is a teaching and learning exercise, intellectual generosity is what’s most appreciated. I mean, that’s the whole goal of the contest so that everybody wins.

Edit 11/23/12
Vizu polls have closed down. Below is a screen capture of the poll results.

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  1. Cymru Llewes says:

    I must be really green then. I hate getting shopping bags I’d much rather put everything back in the cart and take it out to my car and put it in the cargo carrier that I have.

    But I can’t break baggers of the habit of putting everything in to bags even when I ask them not to.

  2. Alison Cummins says:


    You forgot to ask about portability. I have a couple of lovely big bags from Holland (with prominently-displayed store logos) made of the kind of woven plastic (or fibreglass?) that tarps are made of. I only take one with me at a time, and only when I’m going to the grocery store around the corner, because they’re just so cumbersome — though waterproof and very strong.

    Those string bags people used to use are great for portability. You’d carry one or two in your purse at all times, and when you were in the market (as you were twice a day) you pulled them out and popped in some onions or tomatoes or cheese and a hank of basil. These days I think people are more uncomfortable displaying the contents of their bags — what if there were tampons in them? Or junk food? None of anybody’s business!

    My mother carries string bags in the glove compartment of her car, but getting them back in there is the problem. Once she’s brought the groceries into the house, the bags have to be carted back to the car again. They don’t always make it. We keep our bags in the broom closet, but we don’t always remember them and they’re never available for spur-of-the-moment purchases when we’re away from home. So some thought needs to be given to how the bags are going to be managed.

  3. Pär Boman says:


    I haven’t used a plastic bag for quite some time now. At Tescos in the UK you get extra bonus points (green clubcard points) if you don’t take a bag or if you bring reused ones.

    I usually use a very simply but big bag that I made myself out of some spare durable fabric I had laying around. Quite boring look, but I probably need to make another couple of them soon as my flat-mates keep borrowing it.

    I used to have a simpler version of: which was great when the walk was a bit longer.

    Thanks for a great blog, been reading for a while but this is my first post.



  4. Kathleen says:

    You forgot to ask about portability…I only take one with me at a time, and only when I’m going to the grocery store around the corner, because they’re just so cumbersome …Those string bags people used to use are great for portability. You’d carry one or two in your purse at all times, …My mother carries string bags in the glove compartment of her car, but getting them back in there is the problem… We keep our bags in the broom closet, but we don’t always remember them …So some thought needs to be given to how the bags are going to be managed.

    I totally agree portability is an issue and part of making reuse a habit. Part of the portability can come in the design issue, some of those bags are designed to zip up into a little packet making stowage into a purse or glove compartment easier. Part of the reason I said I needed a dozen was having one per glove compartment, purse and bike basket :). When I was a kid (I grew up in germany) we always carried our own bags. Funny how culture and convenience can break good habits.

  5. Rebecca F says:

    I’ve been using these and really like them. I’m a paper bag fan because I like the sturdy bottom, and how you can stack up your groceries with the heaviest on the bottom and lighter stuff on top. Environmental concerns aside, plastic bags always leave me with bruised fruit and broken eggs.

    The only problem with these is that more than 2 in the purse takes up too much space. It would be difficult to get them more compact and still have the reinforced bottom that makes them so great to use.

  6. Recently, at the grocery store, I saw a woman with several large Boat and Tote bags from LL Bean. They seemed like a good choice, as they are fairly indestructable, and have a guarantee. I don’t know how sustainable/ organic the materials are, though.

  7. malissa says:

    This is funny, I had made my mom a bag for her knitting at Christmas and she called me a few weeks later to tell me she had decided to use it for groceries! I had several compartments for yarn, that she said she used for milk, eggs, ect… I’m always loosing my keys so I hung some hooks by the door, when I finally make my own bag that’s where it’s going to be placed next to the keys. I would say size and storage of the bags are going to be the 2 main factors. I think this is going to be a great challenge and I’m up for it.

  8. Christy B. says:

    fun fun fun I already have so many ideas! I get plastic bags at the store because they double as Chubbs-excrement carriers (he’s my pooch) but the ratio of waste to bags is getting ridiculous. It’s time to switch over.

  9. Oxanna says:

    *sigh* I tend toward a libertarian POV, so the ordinance doesn’t make me happy. ;) But as far as reusable bags go, I think they’re a great idea. For me, portability would be key. The current crop of canvas bags are durable and roomy, but not so convenient to carry into a store, especially if you need 10 bags! So the ability to carry *one* of these bags and stash the others into it in a compact manner would be great.

    Besides durability (obvious!), another issue is whether the fabric retains odors and stains. For this reason, nylon (or the like) sounds appealing as long as it doesn’t retain odors. I’ve had some issues with plastic things that retained food odors. Bleh.

    On the inside: No bulky seam allowances, crevices, etc.! Nothing for food or liquids to hide in. (Thinking back to purses with no linings and insulated food bags. You couldn’t find things in them, and they were next to impossible to clean properly.) Most people don’t want to spend fifteen minutes trying to scrub out their grocery bags – just rinse’n’go.

    And here’s something that would probably bug me, but I don’t have a solution. Drying time. Who wants bags taking up space to dry? And who wants to go for a grocery run to find some still-wet bags? Plastic and nylon can take FOREVER to dry. Canvas can go into the dryer, but we have the aforementioned space and portability issues. So…if anyone finds that perfectly strong yet breathable (and dryable!) fiber, let me know! :)

  10. Heather says:

    Trader Joe’s sells reusable bags in their nice hawaiian print for a buck each. Insulated ones are a bit more expensive. Our local grocery chain (save mart) also sells the same things for a dollar. They are shaped like traditional paper bags, just out of tarp material. I have a ton of those that I use. I keep some in the car, some in the house, use them for picnics etc. I like them better for groceries than my canvas bags. First because they do protect the groceries better and they stack better when folded. Canvas just lumps up.

  11. Catherine D. says:

    I was thinking about Par’s comment. In the US stores are now giving 3 and 4 cents off for bringing your own bag. Just think if the bag was stylish and durable. Can’t wait to see the ideas and results.

    PS Just found your blog and love it!

  12. Josh says:

    I love this idea! It’s not dopey at all. It’s so odd because I’ve been thinking about this very subject for the past 3 months! I too was even counting the number of plastic bags I use in a week to try and figure out how many I’d need. I was planning on making my own as I didn’t like any on the market. I buy groceries once a week usually and will need at least 10 bags, maybe more. My concern is how the store will take me bringing in my own bags. Will they look at me funny and think I was trying to sneak off with things? Especially walking in the door with 10 bags. Wal Mart is especially bad with bags now. They will literally give you 3 or 4 bags that are accidentally attached to other bags because they didn’t pull them off the bag wheel thingy correctly.

    Jess and I will probably collaborate together on this project.

  13. Christine says:

    We’ve been using canvas bags from conferences for years. The big problem with them is they don’t have the flat bottom-straight sides affordance that paper bags have. This makes them harder to pack. So I think that having a flat bottom will be crucial.

    PS I read your blog religiously but never post. I think its a GREAT contest.

  14. i use two styles of reusable shopping bags for all my shopping (not just grocery). for groceries i use these green canvas bags with plastic inserts in the bottom that are shaped like traditional paper bags. the plastic inserts give them strength and structure, and i can sling one over each shoulder to walk home. i got mine for $1.50 each at the Berkeley Bowl and have used them weekly for months now with no problems.

    my bag for all other shopping trips is my reisenthel mini maxi shopper L, which i got for $10. it has a floral pattern and is way more stylish to use than store bags. it is also sturdy enough to be used for groceries if you want, and machine washable. i keep it in its zip case in my purse. i love it so much i am giving one away as a contest prize on my blog right now.

    i love that stores are now giving small discounts when you bring your own bag. i shop 2-3x a week a safeway and andronico’s markets, and at 3-5 cents per bag, mine paid for themselves quickly!

  15. Anna Quigley says:

    Hi ~

    I distribute a line of recycled plastic bag products by a company named Conserve from New Delhi, India. We carry a full line of their products (under our Eco Chic tab on our website)including shoppers, totes, handbags, makeup pouches, organizers, and more.

    They are actually made from recycled plastic bags. It’s an incredible new process that literally fuses the reclaimed bags into a new “fabric”…that can then be fashioned into anything that can be done with cotton, leather, etc. They’re lined, have cell phone pockets, and are wonderfully durable, functional and fun!

    And…there are about 300 people who also are earning a sustainable living as a result of this.

    It’s an incredible program and product. I love talking about this program…and welcome comments, questions, inquiries, etc. about this amazing alternative. If anyone has any questions, or wants more information, please feel free to contact me:

    Anna Quigley
    Gaia Goods Trading / Eco Chic
    360.750.1500 / 888.254.4242

    My major gripe when asking NOT to have my purchase put into a plastic bag, is when the sales clerk simply take the bag, crumples it, and throws it away! I can’t tell you how often this has happened to me. I now qualify my request very clearly up front…so it doesn’t happen.


  16. Caya says:

    For me, I thoroughly agree with the arguments AGAINST paper bags, that you posted. So I think it is complete, fascist, short-sighted, illogical nonsense that San Francisco would ban plastic bags. They are perfectly recyclable! It doesn’t surprise me at all that San Francisco did it though. Anyway, I have many, many, many uses for those plastic bags- too many to list. Even my kitchen rug that saves my aching legs as I do dishes is made out of crocheted plastic bags.

    As for reusable bags- fine, if I have to. Want to know how much I would pay for them? Under $2! Not a penny more!! I can make one myself in a matter of minutes, and I’m certainly not going to spend my hard-earned money on something like that. I use a plastic bin in my car to hold things from the Warehouse bulk grocery store anyway. Personally I think the whole thing is ridiculous, but it is a fact of life in our society that people are so helpless and ignorant that they can’t figure out how to re-use those plastic bags without being told, or have enough logical thinking skills to see through the lying Green rhetoric and recognize that paper bags are much more wasteful and plastic bags are recyclable and are MADE out of recycled materials, and they are too ignorant and brainwashed by our consumerist society to know how to make their own bags. They have to BUY them, for crying out loud! Sorry but I’m disgusted. What these people are going to do if the electric grid ever goes down, and martial law is declared (openly- it already has been, underhandedly), and they actually have to have some survival skills- they’re going to fall apart.

  17. Josh says:

    and they are too ignorant and brainwashed by our consumerist society to know how to make their own bags

    I disagree. Lot’s of people don’t know how to sew and don’t have sewing machines, don’t have time to make their own etc. Most people just want bags, they don’t want to start a craft project that may or may not turn out right. I sew for a living for god sakes and I was looking into what I could buy for myself. Time is worth more for some people. It’s not about being ignorant or brainwashed.

    but it is a fact of life in our society that people are so helpless and ignorant that they can’t figure out how to re-use those plastic bags without being told

    It’s not that I don’t know how to reuse them, it’s that I have SO MANY that I couldn’t use them in my life time. I try to use as many as possible. I often have to ship things off through the mail lady and packages are often too big for the mail box, so I hang it on the outside using a plastic shopping bag. I doubt I’ll be knitting rugs out of them any time soon, no time for things like that. I just think it’s better for the planet to cut down on our consumption of plastic bags and paper bags.

    I have a question, does recycling plastic bags cause air pollution? Who can answer that?

  18. Mallory says:

    I found out about Envirosax not too long ago…they’re a company based out of Australia, but they’re finally getting some of their bags sold in the US. I wrote about them in my blog awhile back and they recently sent me one as a sample/thank you. The main thing I like about them is they fold up to a ridiculously small size but when open they hold about the same amount that two disposable plastic grocery bags would hold. They’ve got a lot of stylish prints as well, so they’re functional and fashionable (although for something like shopping bags, function comes before fashion for me). Here’s their website:

  19. I’m pondering bag ideas as well, but I thought I’d offer some temporary actions too. These are by NO means solutions, but just a few other things we can do. My roommate used to just take 5 or 6 plastic bags from our apartment to the grocery store, and then when it was time to bag, he helped the grocer bag with those. I live in NYC, where most people don’t have cars, but carrying a few empty bags isn’t difficult, especially when we’re used to lugging our groceries many blocks.

    Something else I’ve made a habit to do at drug stores or grocery stores when I just need one or two things, is as soon as I put my items on the counter, say “I don’t need a bag.” Again, in NYC, we all have our big bags or backpacks all the time b/c we don’t have cars, so it’s easy to fit a few things in there. A plastic bag is unnecessary for the most part.

  20. joni says:

    There is a lady at a seniors home near-by who uses “old” plastic bags to crochet new ‘re-useable’ bags with handles. They’re strong, colourful and use up the shopping plastics!
    As for me, I use laundry hampers or cardboard boxes – for the amount of grocery I purchase for 5 teenage kids, a small pretty bag just won’t cut it.

  21. Kathleen says:

    Heya Caya, I can see you’re a pistol :).

    All: I’d prefer we not go off track here, debates over sustainability issues can derail the whole project. For better or worse, this is the next design contest. I know it’s lame but it’s better than the contest any of you proposed :) -iow, none. :). So, regardless of politics, economics and science, this is our design project. Let’s get back to discussing the elements critical to our project. I’ve been very impressed with the quality of ideas so far.

    Stubbornly (not the right word) tho, I’ve decided my first effort will be to make a fabric replica of the existing plastic bag. It has some worthwhile features engineering wise. I thought I’d rough one out and use it awhile to see its downsides and figure out ways to incorporate some of the features others mention.

  22. Claire-Marie Costanza says:

    Plastic shopping bags are a huge litter problem world-wide and a danger to wildlife. So far, this discussion hasn’t touched on the litter issue. I wonder how much money the city of San Francisco spends each year to pick up plastic bag litter? The assumption seems to be that this is some kind of “tree hugger” ordinance, but I would suggest that there’s a creditable economic incentive for the city to ban a major source of litter, regardless of any green environmental impact.

    Plastic bags are so light, that a slight breeze can carry them for miles. In San Francisco, bag litter blown a relatively short distance will end up in the San Francisco Bay or the Pacific Ocean, where it can kill wild life — or just wash up on the shore as more litter.

    A bit of Googling produces various interesting factoids: estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic shopping bags consumed yearly world-wide. The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates Americans throw away 100 billion plastic shopping bags every year. Even if you convinced people to recycle all those bags, do facilities exist to recycle 100 billion shopping bags a year in the US? What would you turn then into? And is there a market for 100 billion bags worth of recycled plastic bag procucts?

  23. Jennifer says:

    I’ve been carrying canvas bags with me to the grocery store for years. The checkers and cashiers may give you odd looks at first, but folks have always been nice about putting my groceries in canvas bags. My only complaint is that they over pack them, much more so than they would do with plastic.
    I haven’t bought any of the bags that I own new. They have been conference give-a-ways, thrift store finds or handmade. They are very easy to thrown in the washer, then hang to dry. I keep a large amount of them and use them for just about everything.
    Making bags sturdy, stylish, and portable would encourage people to carry them. A few co-ops that I know of will give you a discount per bag for each one you bring in.

  24. Anna says:

    Our laundry in Los Angeles gave us a bag with their name and logo on it to use to bring in my husband’s shirts. We still use it now that we’re in Philadelphia, so I definitely think people would use reusable bags that stores provided.

  25. Eddie says:

    I suggest making them functional, durable and especially cheap (less than $2 at retail) so that more people would buy/get it and the net benefit to the environment would be greater.

    if you think about it even $5 isn’t much, but the problem is getting people to pay for something they are used to getting for free. may i suggest that you put another poll up:

    i would actually pay for re-usable grocery store bags if they cost at the most:

    > $1 each
    > $2 each
    > $3 each
    > $5 each
    > $10 each

    what i don’t know is if these prices are feasible when the bags come from a fair trade source, so maybe you would bump them up to for example $2, $4, $6, $10, $15. either way, i can bet you that a lot of the people that chose “i’d pay between $5-$10” choose this option as the next best because they would actually only pay less than $5.

    please keep me posted on the results of your contest. thanks!

  26. Amy says:

    Wow- I’ve got some nylon rip stop and a plastic grocery bag hanging out together patiently waiting to be turned into a pattern for a reusable bag. I’ma get on it! Thanks for the nudge. :)

  27. Trish says:

    I am in love with this contest. I have been designing and redesigning this bag in my head for years. I am going to try to have time to compete here.

    But I also want to tell you a story. In 1989, I was able to win a $250,000 US Department of Labor grant for El Paso Community College to develop and run four courses for the apparel industry. One class was for the front office aspect of an apparel manufacturer (someone to do the payroll for one thing!!); one class was for sewing machine mechanics (we already had that program) to learn to work on computerized industrial machines; one class was for marker making and grading; and the fourth class was for cross training sewing machine operators.

    I met with a number of El Paso manufacturers and determined which sewing operations were the most difficult to train. With this information, we started to design a reuable grocery bag that would incorporate the varied sewing skills for which we were training. Since we never actually designed the bag (that’s a whole freakin’ story on its own), this method of cross training was not used.

    However, the original plan was to get fabrics donated by Levi (or someone like that… we had a ton of manufacturers here in El Paso and I was always able to get bolts and bolts of unused but perfect denim and twill) and then get the fabric parts screen printed with some “catchy ” slogan about Levi and El Paso Community College saving the environment while training for the future. The bags were going to be given to workers at the Levi plants (we had five plants then.) This would have been done for any company who donated the materials we needed.

    It is a shame this never happened. The woman we hired to run the grant was an “industrial idiot”. She had a degree in Fashion Merchandising and was so out of it about production that she probably could not have read this blog with any comprehension.

    When I asked her how we were going to set the learning curves for the various operations, I had to explain the concept of learning curve to her. Then she actually said these words to me, “I don’t think anyone will care how FAST the operators sew.”!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Well, anyway, I will get off my rant and go back to thinking about a great design for the reusable bag. I love the furoshiki concept and really enjoyed getting things “bagged” like that when I was in Tokyo.

    BTW, I do use canvas bags for my shopping. I found mine at Albertson’s when it was still Skaggs Alpha Beta. I also have insulated bags that I use for frozen and cold products.

  28. Densie says:

    I have been making cloth grocery bags and have a very basic tutorial on my blog. Here is the link
    I usually add an exterior pocket that can be used for small items that you wouldn’t want to mix with the groceries. I recently made one with a peace symbol on the front, just for fun.

    I donate these bags to my congregation where they are sold as a fund raiser. They usually go for $10.

    I am not interested in competing, just want to share my approach.

  29. Colleen says:

    One article in the recent FIT Network (Fashion Institute of Technology alumni magazine) is titled, “Student Designs Whole Foods Tote”. A student, Garyfalia Papadapalou, Packaging Design’07, won the contest. The design is an “artfully styled version of the Whole Foods logo”. The bags are made from sustainable cotton and sell for 9.99/small and 11.99/large. The contest was sponsored by the Chelsea, NY, store and the bags are only available there. They donate a portion of sales to the Packaging Design Dept. Kathleen’s design contest could morph into a fundraising project for schools (or F-I?!).

  30. Diane says:

    When I lived in Italy in the mid 1980s everyone carried their own reusable bags. Grocery stores charged extra if you used their plastic bags and I’d love to see this concept take hold in the US. I’ve been using canvas bags for groceries for years and just recently started using those giveaway totes for other shopping. It can be difficult to get into the habit of carrying bags into the store but I keep at it.

    Here in suburbia we’re the only people on the block that recycle and I have to plan my trips so I can fill up the truck with E85 since there are so few stations that sell it. It just takes time for people to realize how small things add up.

    So, this is how we change the world…one bag at a time. Not a dopey idea at all.

  31. Kathleen says:

    The contest was sponsored by the Chelsea, NY, store and the bags are only available there. They donate a portion of sales to the Packaging Design Dept. Kathleen’s design contest could morph into a fundraising project for schools (or F-I?!).

    You know, it’s interesting you mention a fundraiser. I was wondering if people would be willing to donate their entries for an auction, the proceeds to be donated to a worthwhile cause. I don’t think it’s appropriate that F-I benefit tho, otherwise I’d have an interest in promoting competitions. Maybe we could donate to support education in some form or fashion. Ideas? Actually, I think it’d be great if we had our own designated charity that we could support as a group.

  32. J C Sprowls says:

    Why not a small handful of charities that identify/benefit from your business? Who was it you ran for, recently?

    For example, the charity list might include:
    -Autism Research/Education x%
    -Who-you-ran-for y%
    -Entrepreneur-training-fund z%

    Who among us would be willing to scout candidates and present them to Kathleen for decision?

  33. Sandy Erdman says:

    Last year for The Country Register papers throughout the United States & Canada. I wrote an article and directions on making a tote bag using either heavy homespun fabric or using placemats and a handle of fabric webbing. I personally have been making these bags for 13 years for myself and others. They are great for the farmers market and as a tote bag for whatever. This is something anyone can do and it is not a new idea…Thanks…….

  34. Marilyn says:

    I think it’s a great idea…reusable shopping bags, though definitely not new. I made myself 2 large schlep bags about a year ago to use for carrying groceries into the house. I live upstairs and everytime I went grocery shopping I had to make 2-3 trips to my car and up stairs to get the groceries into the house. Even if I carried 5-6 bags at a time. If the plastic bags were heavy they cut into my hand and there was no other way to carry them. Some bags would only have 2-3 items in them and I always considered that such a waste. Anyway, I made these schlep bags and I can get 3-4 plastic bags worth of stuff in each one and throw it over my shoulder like a shoulder purse and carry them up stairs with no problem. Sometimes I will have one on each shoulder and one in each hand and I can make it with only one trip. Even if I have to set one or two down part way, I still don’t have to make the whole trip so many times and the bags are much easier to carry. I have never had any trouble with strange looks at the store by other customers or cashiers. In fact, last week I let the cashier bag my groceries in the plastic bags and then just transfered everything to the cloth bags afterward and the cashier told me that she would have bagged my stuff in them if I had given them to her at the beginning. (I hadn’t because I had stacked my groceries in the cart on top of my bags and couldn’t get to them until the cart was emptied…oops). I can definitely get more into the bag if the stuff isn’t packed into plastic bags first. I love my schlep bags and I plan to make more and possibly put plastic into the bottom section to make it sturdier…though I’m not sure that’s necessary. The only advantage that I can see would be that it would keep it open to make it easier to load.

  35. Patricia says:

    I been using my own shopping bags for over 30 years (or longer). In terms of durablity, I have some heavy and medium weight grocery bags with cotton web handles (long enough to put on your shoulder) that have been used and abused for over 20 years. They are the type often sold in grocery stores bearing the stores logo. My husband and I keep at least 10 of these bags in each car and just carry a few into the grocery store each time we go shopping. Never had one rip or a seam come apart in all these years. They have been washed repeatedly, stepped on and also used to carry hardware, household items, etc. out of home shopping centers. To me, when it comes to durablity, these simple fabrics and construction can’t be beat.

    The downside of these canvas bags is they are bulky and use up quite a bit of space in the car.

    General shopping is another category of resuable bags. I use lightweight, fit in your purse (or pocket) shopping bags for all other shopping. I always have at least two in my purse before leaving home. I first encountered a zip-up, repackable, reusable bag 20+ years ago in an Egghead Software store and have been on the hunt for the perfect compact repackable bag ever since.

    Samsonite once made a terrific foldup, lightweight, ripstop traveling bag that had a zipper closure, outside pocket with snap that could be used for a wallet and keys with long-enough handles for shoulder wear. The bag did a quick fold into the outside pocket and shut with a single snap. Very light, small but durable (it was stolen before I could trace a pattern). I’ve never found another like it and continue the search.

    I’ve found some inexpensive zip-ups, but most used poor fabric that quickly disintegrated. When came online, I purchased several of their small, compact bags. I have their Acme Workhorse (styles 1500 and 1501), Walker, Chico, Woven and recently their Reisenthel – Mini Maxi Backpack. Their compact bags are really that — compact and light weight, super fast and easy to repack. Totes/Isotoner outlets stores have had some zip-up repackable bags.

    I recently found some super-lightweight ripstop at for designing my own compact shopping bags, but don’t have a feel how the fabric will hold up.

    To me, there is no “one” perfect bag for all things. There are the durable grocery lugging bags, the fashionable totes and the light-weight, compact, repackable bags for general shopping.

    In my mind, there are plenty of great designs and choices in the first two categories. It’s the last category that I find interesting. I would like to see additional styles in the very compact, light-weight, at least two-in-the-purse, styles. One that is about the same size and shape as the fancy department store paper bags that have those twine handles. It would be terrific if they had a snap extension that would hold the center of the bag closed. A zipper style of this type of bag would also be good. More zipper topped repackables in medium sizes. Also, a few styles of small repackables for that bunch of small items you might buy at a drugstore. Dual handled bags (hand carry and shoulder carry) has an appeal. A small repackable a man would willingly put in his pocket or clip to a belt loop (LOL). I really like the repackable backpack that has, but I’d like to see a more compact, stylish version. To me, the light-weight, repackable backpacks have a lot of room for design possibilities.

  36. Liz says:

    Our favorite grocery store(Hollywood) came out with their own cloth bags 15 years ago. A dear friend made our daughter several bags for a wedding gift 14 years ago. She has worn them out.

  37. Lisa says:

    Well, I don’t know if I will think up a bag design; however, I use 6 of the Trader Joe’s bags that are shaped like the paper bags with the fold-up handles that most grocery stores have. They’re made of that tarpy stuff and the seams are on the outside and covered with webbing, which makes the handles. I like them way better than the plastic grocery bags and they can be packed pretty heavily. The handles are long enough that you can put them on your arms but too short for the shoulder. I have a minivan so I can leave them on the floor under the back seat where they’re not in the way.

    Also, Portland and the Northwest are really into recycling and ecology and stuff, so even the guys at New Seasons store don’t look at me weird for bringing in the Trader Joe’s bags and my insulated bag. I haven’t remembered to take them into places like Target yet or where I buy a lot of stuff, but I’ll try to remember and see what happens. :-)

    I think everyone who has been making their own bags should for however long should still submit theirs to the contest because it will be nice to see everyone’s ideas.

  38. Marie-Christine says:

    Having recently moved back to France, I got to update my old string bag habits. Always feel like stuff will fall out of the string bag. I did get a lovely straw basket for the Sunday morning market, which holds so much I can hardly carry it back home. But then there’s the other shopping, which usually involves at least a 15mn walk home. First of all, I carry a serious backpack usually. It’s grey and not too sporty-looking (although in France anything not leather and branded is way below average..), padded in the back, and from REI. It carries 20-30lb without breaking my back, so I’m set for either a run at the library, or some nasty grocery shopping like olive oil, cans AND milk in the same run. However I’ve also been using a really nice addition: the 75c nylon bag sold by my local Monoprix. It’s shaped like the Acme bag workhorse, dries in a blink, comes in colors. I usually put the heaviest stuff in the backpack and use the foldable to supplement, or for fragile items, I’m a bit queasy about big loads in it without any rational basis for that. Its main good point: it folds down into a little bag, goes right back into the backpack so I don’t have to PLAN on every shopping expedition, it’s always with me. What I wish for: that it was attached to the little bag so I wouldn’t risk to lose that. mmm. I need some ripstop :-).

  39. Dalila says:

    Great topic comments! Wow!
    I’ve been making my own bags for a while. So I would not pay anything for bags but that’s because I make them. I do make them as gifts for other people as well – I tend to think it encourages them to reuse bags instead of get plastic. I usually use fabric I get at thrift stores or is gifted. It’s a great way to use a piece of clothing that might be stained or have holes as well. Sheets work great too. (You know when they rip down the middle – you can still make a bag from them!)
    I have a photo on flickr of some bags that I made out of a mattress cover (click my name for link). You might think this isn’t very strong but we load them up quite a bit and they haven’t ripped yet.
    Some features in these bags that I like: long handles to go over shoulders (and big bulky winter coats), enclosed seam (if one seam rips, there’s the second one), and light-weight fabric that compacts easily.
    These are pretty simple bags but they do take a bit of time for me to make – sewing on the handles is time consuming, as well as hemming the top nicely. I make a square bag bottom by angle-sewing the bottom which is pretty simple. This triangle can be cut out or just left for lazy people like me!

  40. LornaJay says:

    Here in the UK several supermarkets sell extra-strong reusable plastic bags – with a lifetime guarantee. If you bring back your old one, they will provide a new one for free and recycle the old, broken one.

    Paper bags are a disaster here – have you ever tried to walk home in the rain with a paper bag full of shopping?

    Perhaps because I don’t drive to the shops much, I tend to take a special bag if I know I’ll be doing a big shop. Comfortable handles, or a backpack, generally suffice for when I’m lugging tatties and other heavy stuff.

  41. La BellaDonna says:

    Oxana, I would suggest you might want to look into raincoat-weight microfiber for your bags. Microfiber should help keep rain out, but allow moisture to evaporate fairly quickly.

    I’ve carried canvas totes for years. If it’s a fabric-buying expedition, sometimes I’ll carry a canvas tote with a canvas duffel bag folded up inside it; the duffel is big enough to hold an average-sized American woman. (Yep, 5’4, at least, and 147 pounds.) But I do still use plastic shopping bags! Plastic keeps purchases from leaking inside my canvas bags, and I use the plastic bags to clean out the cat box, and for gathering up trash. I also reycle clean used plastic bags, donating them to several thrift stores in my area for their customers.

    As far as bag design goes, there are several elements I look for; I do need to just break down and make some of my own, but until I get a chance to, I look for:

    Sturdy straps. My preference is for sturdy straps, and I really like straps that go around the entire bag. Realistically, I’ll settle for straps with multiple stitching, so that the extra-large bag of potatoes I add doesn’t cause the strap to pull out (as has happened on more than one occasion).

    Strap length. I want to be able to comfortably hang the bag from my shoulder; I don’t want to be forced to carry it in my hand because the straps are too short to sling it on. I love the straps that are long enough for me to wear them over my shoulder whilst wearing a coat.

    Bag length. This goes hand-in-hand, or hand-in-shoulder, with strap length. I can carry quite a tall bag, if I can carry it on my shoulder. If the bag has to be carried in my hand, the bag needs to be short enough so that it doesn’t drag on the ground if my arm is fully extended. I don’t want to have to carry a thirty- or forty-pound bag any appreciable distance with my arm bent.

    Straps that are wide enough not to slice either my shoulder or my hand. If the bag is for shopping, and meant to be carried in the hand, I’ve used padded velcro rolls to protect my hands. I’ve been known to resort to running a length of stick under the handles of plastic grocery bags to keep from being cut. How about a nice flexible length of tubing, say 5 or 6 inches long, with an inch diameter and a slit along the entire length (like a short chunk of garden hose), that can have those stupid narrow grocery handles threaded through them? (Marilyn, you know what I’m talking about. If you still use plastic grocery bags, you may want to pick up a couple lengths of flexible tubing and slit them for the handles of the bags.)

    Rain flap, or other means (zipper, etc.) to keep the contents dry.

    Some means of securing the contents – if it doesn’t zip, at least let the top velcro in a couple of places, or tie. I’m not partial to snaps; in my experience, anything that places strain against a snap will cause it to unsnap.

    It’s a bonus if there are any interior pockets for sorting some of the more fragile contents.

    Flat-felling, or double-stitching, would be an extra bonus, but realistically, I’d expect that in one I made, rather than one I bought, since extra labor generally translates to extra expense.

    Those are the features I look for; I walk virtually everywhere, or take public transportation. By and large, if it’s in my apartment, it got there on my back (or over my shoulder) and it definitely colours what I look for in the bags that I acquire to carry.

    I won’t be entering the contest, but I thought I would post the above in the event it might be helpful to the folks who are.

  42. Cheryl says:

    I have three bags I use alot.My favorite two have flat square bottoms, easy to load and unload.They do take up space though.It would be awkward to take enough bags with me on a big grocery trip,I would need 10!!!I live in Ohio. A chain grocery-store tried the reusable bags YEARS ago.They provided nice sturdy canvas bags..for one dollar.The idea TOTALLY bombed….Maybe now is the time to try again though.I’m not sure.I will admit ALL of the families with children I know do NOT even recycle. My lectures go nowhere. I am child-free,I recycle,I care about my planet. THEY are the ones who will have people living on this planet in the future.I would think they would make the effort to SAVE IT!!!!

  43. Suzanne says:

    Okay, I didn’t think I cared about colors, but I adore these!

    The only problem with string bags is when I have my kids “helping” me, they look difficult to fill. A flat bottom would be better, I think. I like the idea of a tote to carry all the bags in too.

    The best part about this is how into it my kids would get. I already have them help me figure out the groceries while we are at the store. It keeps them from misbehaving because they are invested in the trip. (If they forget to remind me to buy their favorite whatever, we don’t get it until the next week!)

    Love all the comments. There is so much good info here. I totally want to start doing this.

  44. Abby says:

    This is a great idea. I have been using my own grocery Bags for about 1 1/2 years. It took me about 10 months to run out of plastic bags that had gathered under the counter. One thing that I have done is bought nylon bags that fold into a compact square pocket. That way you can carry many and not run out and have to take the plastic bags. I have 6 Safeway fabric bags. They carry lots of groceries, aren’t hard on the hands, and won’t rip and drop your groceries all over the parking lot. Plus, they are more economical than plastic. (Safeway is a chain of grocery Stores in Canada. they sell the nylon fold up bags.) I have also read {elsewhere on the web} that thrift stores carry reuseable bags.
    Plus, I’ve also made my own tote bags. Not terribly useful for groceries, but great for everything else. For example you go into a store and buy 1 or 2 small items: they give you a bag. After 5 stores, you have 5 small bags, and that stinks. If you carry your own tote bag, you only need to make certain you have the receipt, so you can take the merchandise into another store.

  45. sarah Astor says:

    I have an idea for a re-usable bag but do not know how to go about getting a prototype made. Can anyone give me some information on this and then I would like to submit it to the competition being run

  46. Wendy says:

    I need to order several thousand of the Trader Joe type bags for some grocery stores. Any idea what company makes them?

  47. WEndy says:

    Ha! I’ve tried talking to several different ones at Trader Joe’s corporate and is a hush-hush secret because it’s their trademark. The red bags have big flowers on them, I’m just looking for one the same size – 16″ x 12″ x 12″ with a nice 7″ gusett. The fabric is sort of a shiny looking, almost a plastic-coated look to it. It will stand up alone since it has a larage gusett at the bottom.

  48. Carol says:

    Decade(s?) ago I made a number of bags that are still going strong. They’re the size of the standard plastic grocery bags, with a packcloth bottom and strong sportsmesh sides. The webbing handles which wrap around the bottom take the stress, and that they’re mostly mesh means they take little space when not in use. The “alpha” ones have extra pockets to squish the others (and flimsy produce sacks) into.

    My other innovation was to buy a couple of kite string reels. Think of a hollow toroid sliced in two perpendicular to its radius (I’ll post reference shots on the forum if anyone wants), large enough to comfortably fit over my forearm, and also the right size to slip into the strap(s), which would otherwise cut into hands.

    Despite a routine for getting these back to the vehicle, we still accumulate plastic bags at an alarming rate – opening a shipment and seeing it cushioned with these, for example. I love the idea of making a cushy mat out of them. Not upscale on the decorator front, but in front of my cutting table, who cares?

  49. i admit i haven’t read all the comments, so someone may have mentioned this:

    to me, the most important thing is a design that makes it really easy for me to stash a great number of bags in pockets, bags, purses. etc.
    I’m constantly forgetting to bring the re-usable bags I have; I need to trick myself into always having one handy!

  50. Jenny Hughes says:

    I am so happy to hear the wonderful support for re-usable bags. Plastic bags are littering our planet and we can all make a difference by BYOB’ing. My company, Bring Your Own Bag, offers natural and organic cotton totes with fresh designs. We also have a BYOB artist series. A portion of net profits from every bag sold is being donated to the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

  51. Amber says:

    I am a 12 year old Youth Entrepreneur. I sell only one product, stat-of-the-art, reusable, insulated multi-function bags made in the USA with space age technology. I have lots of helpful hints on my website to help answer lots of the questions and problems people are talking about.

    I hope you will check it out at

    I think you will like the neat stuff on my website.

  52. anne says:

    I love my big plastic mesh shopping baskets. i bought them in europe. they can old a really full shopping cart, and are strong. I also the colors. I hate dark,gloomy colors. I also like a insulated bag I received as a freebee, made by (“shop n fold insulated bag”) I just wish it was a lot bigger. at least 15 by 17 by 8 would be great. weight doesn’t matter that much.they go straight from a shopping cart in the car, where i live,. it just holds it all together.
    Now I’m looking to buy bags for our school auction, and can’t seem to find these bags any bigger anywhere. Someone ought to make these.

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