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Frugal Green Shopping Bags

Reusable shopping bags have come a long way. Efforts like New American Dream's Carbon Conscious Consumer campaign have made great strides in touting their eco-advantages over disposable bags. As a result, the same big-name grocery stores whose clerks gave me funny looks for bringing my own bags are now prominently hawking reusable bags in the checkout line.

But don't feel like you have to drop a bundle of cash for these trendy totes in order to be green. As a reusable shopping bag veteran and aspiring frugalista, I'd like to share some free and inexpensive ways to get on the reusable bag bandwagon:


  • Raid your closets for backpacks, tote bags, and duffel bags. The greenest, cheapest reusable shopping bags are the ones you already have!

  • Keep reusing your old plastic and paper bags. The paper grocery bags with handles are surprisingly durable and can be reused many times. To get even more use from them, I've been known to repair them by taping up small tears and stapling handles back on!

  • Ask your friends for their extra paper and plastic bags. Even after kicking the bag habit, many people still have more bags than they can possibly use.

  • Look for inexpensive tote bags at thrift stores and garage sales. Since tote bags are such a popular promotional giveaway item, thrift store shelves are loaded with them. Sturdy, well-made, almost-new bags can be had for a song.

  • Make your own bags from scrap fabric.

  • Instead of buying a special insulated hot/cold shopping bag, use your picnic cooler. As a bonus, this greens your drive - since you don't have to rush home with your perishables, you can do more errands in a single car trip.

  • Many stores will refund you a few cents for every bag you bring. Over time, a reusable bag can pay for itself!

Forget your bag while shopping? Don't fret! Instead of buying a new one or giving in to the "paper or plastic" refrain, try these tips:


  • For small purchases, carry the items home in your hands or pockets.

  • Grab a bag from the recycling bin outside the store door. Don't worry, these are usually clean. Plus, you can feel virtuous because bag reuse is a lot greener than bag recycling.

  • Unload your shopping cart directly into your car trunk.

If you do buy a reusable shopping bag, be a conscious consumer and consider the following:


  • Where was it made, and under what working conditions? Was sweatshop labor used?

  • Is it made of sustainable materials, such as recycled plastic or organic cotton?

  • Can you get it secondhand? Used goods consume the fewest resources.

  • Is it durable? Avoid cheap bags made with flimsy materials and construction. If it rips after a month of use, it's still waste.

  • Does it stand upright when unfolded? Your bagging clerk will thank you!

Visit the Conscious Consumer Marketplace for more tips on reusable shopping bags.

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Contributing author Kathryn Benedicto is a long-time New Dream member, online activist, and thrifty consumer.

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