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According to the UN Environment Program, up to 5 trillion single-use plastic bags are used globally each year, and because of the material they’re made from, most municipal recycling centers don’t accept them (more on this below).
The most sustainable option is to skip the bag altogether. You can also make your own reusable produce bags out of old T-shirts. But if you’d rather purchase them new, here are our recommendations for the best reusable produce bags on the market today.
Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
Best Reusable Produce Bag Set: Eco Joy Cotton Reusable Produce Bags
If you’re making the switch to more sustainable shopping bags and want a variety of products to use, the Eco Joy Cotton Reusable Produce Bags set is a great place to start. The set comes with three mesh drawstring bags, three muslin drawstring bags, a large mesh tote and a zippered sandwich-size pouch.
Each product is made with organic, non-GMO cotton that’s ethically sourced in accordance with Worldwide Responsible Accredited Production (WRAP) standards. The cotton comes from India and Turkey, and the bags are hand-assembled in Canada by the owner of Eco Joy, so you can feel good about supporting a small business while reducing your environmental impact.
Customer rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with over 300 Amazon reviews
Why buy: Zero-waste; Handmade in Canada; WRAP compliant; Machine washable
Best Mesh Bags: Organic Cotton Mart Reusable Cotton Mesh Produce Bags
Organic Cotton Mart
Some shoppers prefer to use mesh bags when shopping for fruits and veggies. We recommend checking out Organic Cotton Mart’s Reusable Cotton Mesh Produce Bags if you’re in this camp, as they’re made with Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified cotton.
Mesh reusable produce bags can make the checkout process easier than muslin bags since you can see what’s inside them without having to open them up. Plus, the tare weight (i.e., the weight of the empty bag that should be subtracted from the total weight of your produce to make sure you don’t pay extra for using your bag) is printed right on the label of Organic Cotton Mart’s bags, making everything that much more convenient.
Customer rating: 4.6 out of 5 stars with nearly 1,000 Amazon reviews
Why buy: GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable
Best Muslin Bags: Simple Ecology Reusable Produce Bags
On the other hand, if you just want to purchase muslin bags, we like Simple Ecology’s Reusable Produce Bags, which are also made with GOTS-certified organic cotton. Simple Ecology also has a starter kit that comes with several reusable grocery bags if you’re looking for more variety.
The benefit of using muslin reusable produce bags is that, unlike mesh, there are no holes for small items to slip through. This means that in addition to larger produce, you can use them to purchase bulk foods like lentils, beans and rice — or even powders like flour or spices — without worrying about anything leaking. They’re also best for keeping leafy greens fresh.
Customer rating: 4.7 out of 5 stars with nearly 1,500 Amazon reviews
Why buy: GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable; Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) certified packaging when purchased from manufacturer
Best String Bags: ECOBAGS Market Collection Reusable Bag Set
Whether you’re buying bread, fresh flowers, produce or all of the above, the ECOBAGS Market Collection Reusable Bag Set is ideal for farmers market shopping or large grocery hauls. The netted bags are durable, flexible, and pack down small so they’re easy to keep in your car or purse.
ECOBAGS is a woman-owned certified B Corp, which means it uses sound social and environmental practices. These bags come in packs of three or five and have a few different handle lengths and color options, but they’re all made with GOTS-certified organic cotton.
Customer rating: Not applicable
Why buy: GOTS certified; Machine washable; Biodegradable; Certified B Corp; SA8000 certified for the protection of basic human rights of workers
Why Make the Switch to Reusable Produce Bags?
According to the UN, humans produce 300 million tons of plastic waste each year, and about 60% of the plastic produced since the early 1950s has ended up in a landfill or the natural environment.
Plastic grocery bags and produce bags are made from low-density polyethylene (LDPE). Technically, this type of plastic can be recycled. However, in practice, plastic bags easily clog recycling machinery, so most municipal recycling centers do not accept this type of material.
A study by the EPA showed that only about 6% of the LDPE generated in 2015 was recycled. Other types of plastic, by comparison, were recycled at 18% and 10% rates.
Although some grocery stores offer plastic bag recycling, the easiest way to get around this is to refuse plastic bags in the first place. Many cities have instituted plastic bag bans, but more often than not, it’s up to individuals to choose to make the switch to reusable grocery bags in their day-to-day lives
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that’s featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.