Plastic bags are being banned across the US—here's what you need to do
What you need to know before you ditch the plastic
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Single-use plastics are officially out of style. With new research being published daily on the negative impacts that plastic pollution is having on our environment—including a 2016 study that predicts oceans will contain more plastic than fish by 2050 if no actions are taken to reduce the flow of plastics into waterways—more and more governments are turning to plastic regulation to reverse the tide and keep people healthy and safe.
While you’ve probably been reading plenty of headlines about the trend away from plastic straws at your favorite coffee shops and restaurants, traditional grocery bags are facing their own demise. Like plastic straws, these shopping bags require significant amounts of petroleum to create, are often not recycled, and frequently pollute waterways and other public areas. As a result, if you’re not already paying extra for plastic bags at your local grocery store, you’re likely about to.
Where are plastic bags being banned?
Since 2008, over 200 counties in the US have regulated the use of plastic bags in retail settings, often by charging customers fees for taking them. This fall, Boston will follow the lead of cities including Austin, Chicago, and Seattle by banning the use of plastic bags entirely. You can read the full list of counties with current or soon-to-be-implemented plastic bag regulation here and find state-wide info on the National Conference of State Legislatures website.
If your city or state is on these lists, you're probably wondering what your options are. A plastic-free future might sound inconvenient, but there are plenty of alternatives out there to accommodate your shopping needs.
What about paper bags?
While you might think the eco-friendly answer to the age-old question "paper or plastic?" is certainly the former, paper bags aren't a perfect way to carry your purchases home. They require cut trees and a non-negligible amount of energy to produce, they're often constructed without handles, and because they're biodegradable, they're more susceptible to tearing, degrading, and spillage than their plastic counterparts. That being said, some stores including Whole Foods and Trader Joe's distribute paper bags with reinforced handles that are strong contenders. If these paper bags suit your needs, more power to you! But if you're still dissatisfied with the potential sogginess and crunchy bulk of paper, reusable totes were made for you.
Where can I buy reusable grocery bags?
Reusable grocery totes can be purchased just about anywhere food is sold. You've probably received free ones as incentives from banks and stores, and you might have some tucked away in one of your closets. If you've never had to commit to reusable totes for all your grocery trips, you'll likely need to pick a few up to meet your demand—but to have a positive environmental benefit in their own right, these totes need to be used many more times than plain recyclable plastic bags to make up for the energy it cost to produce them, so only buy what you need!
You can easily pick up a reusable branded tote from your local grocery store and spend anywhere from $1 to $4. However, many of these "green totes" are cheaply made of thicker plastic, which means you likely won't use them as many times as is good for the environment (and they'll clog up your closets and car even more). If you're looking for sturdy, stylish, and convenient bags that you'll actually use, we've found some of the most popular and best-selling grocery bags on Amazon to help you make the transition.
Here are some popular reusable bags on Amazon
A chic net option for weekend market trips
When my town of Somerville, MA implemented their plastic bag ban in 2016, I decided to look across the pond and take a European approach to groceries with this this stylish net tote from Bailuoni. Not only is the Parisian-style bag chic, but it stretches perfectly to fit lots of fresh produce without bruising or squashing them, folds up into nothing when I’m not using it, and is made of cloth—meaning it won't leave the environmental footprint of plastic. It’s great for one-person households and market trips in the beautiful summer weather.
At $9, the Bailuoni is my pick for best value, but if you’re looking to get even more compliments when you’re out running errands, you can try a similar mesh tote from Urban Outfitters in 7 different colors.
Innovative trolley bags that slide neatly into your cart
Obsessed with organization? This trolley bag set from Modern Day Living will make your day. The 4 colorful bags are designed to fit perfectly into a standard shopping cart to make checkout a breeze—and two are fully insulated. Their designers thought of everything a super-shopper might need.
These lean, mean shopping machines that double as coolers
If you need to keep a lot of groceries cold—and I mean a lot—these trunk-sized bags from Planet E are the way to go. Shoppers who buy in bulk will be obsessed with the their volume, strength, and insulation abilities. Don’t trust me? The product has over 1,200 Amazon reviews and an average 5-star rating. They conveniently fold flat when not in use, and make great coolers for beach trips and sporting events.
A colorful multipack with unbeatable value
Want eco-friendly bags without all the bells and whistles of newer products? Pick up this 10-pack of totes with over 350 5-star reviews for just $18 and you won’t need another bag for years to come. They're made of recycled polypropelyne, so while they're not plastic-free, they're more durable and kind to the earth than single-use bags.
Heavy-duty bags that collapse for easy storage
These Earthwise bags looks and act like produce crates, without all the splinters and bulk. Their side handles and strong straps make carrying super heavy products easy. Oh, and they have hundreds of glowing Amazon reviews.
A carry-all insulated tote that will keep cold (or hot) for hours
If you’re one-and-done about shopping trips, this 5-gallon tote from Lebogner can fit just about everything you need in one sleek black package. Pizza? Check? Produce? Check. Completed to-do list? Check.
BONUS: A handle for keeping shopping trips easy—and pain-free
Although not technically a grocery bag, this Mighty Handle shoulder-saver is one of the best grocery shopping hacks we know. This little device prevents straps from digging into your hands and shoulders, while also making one-trip-from-the-car possible and preventing spillage during transport. If you want to be kind to the environment but you’re devoted to traditional style grocery totes, try out the MIghty Handle with our recommended multipack and you’ll never turn back to plastic.
Prices are accurate at the time this article was published, but may change over time.