The 8 Best Eco-Friendly Reusable Grocery Bags of 2022

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Reusable bags are here to stay. Slowly but surely, pollution-causing disposable bags are being phased out, city by city and country by country. Canvas, nylon, polyester, or recycled plastic bags are not just eco-friendly, but they can also hold a lot more stuff than flimsy high-density polyethylene (HDPE). They’re also much more comfortable to carry, either over the shoulder or in the hand. 

But the point of a reusable bag is that it will stand the test of time—not just a few, but hundreds of trips to the supermarket. Otherwise, it’s just contributing to the waste problem we are already grappling with. Ideally, reusable bags should be made from an environmentally preferable material—but durability has to be first; an ‘eco’ bag that has to be replaced after 10 uses is, lifecycle-wise, less environmentally friendly than one that’s made from plastic but lasts 1,000 uses or more. 

Look for bags that are easily washable, both for the inevitable spills and smears that will occur and also for basic hygiene—you’re often carrying food in them, after all. Since we’re going to be using our reusable bags for many years, they should look good, too. What that means depends on your style, of course, but it’s a truism about human beings that we will use things we find appealing more than those we find unattractive. 

Ahead, our recommendations for the best reusable bags for groceries and more.

The Rundown
Made from 100% recycled polyester (from recycled soda bottles), each bag has its own pouch and carabiner.
These basic-but-still-colorful bags are a bargain.
Best Large-Capacity:
Baggu Big Baggu at Amazon
Generously sized at 33 inches tall and made of ripstop nylon that’s 40% recycled from pre-consumer waste.
A miniature version of the bigger Baggu that holds just as much weight.
Iconic bags with handles tested to hold up to 500 pounds.
Come in dozens of prints and so tough they can last for a decade or longer.
From a woman-owned, certified B-corporation (with a triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Profit).
We really love that this bag is not only made from recycled water bottles, but can be recycled through the ReGirlfriend program.

Best Overall: ChicoBag Original Tote

ChicoBag Original Tote

ChicoBags hits all the sustainability marks and then some: Made from 100% recycled polyester (from recycled soda bottles), ChicoBags carry up to 25 pounds and come in a variety of colors and patterns. Each has its own pouch—and each pouch includes a carabiner so it can be attached to keys, a belt, or another bag. They’re inexpensive, at around $6 each or $24 for a four-pack, and can be used for the long haul.

Best Budget: BeeGreen Reusable Grocery Bag, 10-Pack

BeeGreen Reusable Grocery Bag, 10-Pack

At less than $20 for 10, these basic-but-still-colorful bags are a bargain. The flat-bottomed design can carry up to 50 pounds, and each one wraps up into a tiny roll. Reinforced handles are long enough to hang over your shoulders for easier carrying. They're machine washable and come with a one-year no-rip guarantee. These bags are durable, and comfortable on your shoulders when carting heavy loads.

Best Large-Capacity: Baggu Big Baggu

Baggu Big Baggu

The Big Baggu lives up to its name. Able to hold up to 50 pounds, it’s generously sized at 33 inches tall. It can be worn over the shoulder for easier hauling, and all Baggu bags (they make kids- and medium-sized bags, too) are made from ripstop nylon that’s 40% recycled from pre-consumer waste. The seams are double-stitched, and the bag body is made from one continuous piece of fabric, lending strength to the design.

If you need a bag for individual purchases or for smaller items you don’t want to get lost in a big bag—or need a bag sized for smaller bodies—Baby Baggu bags are just the ticket. Again made with ripstop nylon that’s 40% pre-consumer recycled, these miniature versions can still hold 50 pounds like the bigger Baggu. Think lunch, kids' books, a six-pack of soda, the list of possibilities goes on.

Best for Heaviest Loads: L.L. Bean Boat and Tote, Open-Top

L.L. Bean Boat & Tote

These iconic canvas bags have handles that are tested to hold up to 500 pounds, as they were originally designed in 1944 to haul ice. They come in a variety of sizes (and two handle lengths), can be monogrammed for $8, and last for decades. Made in Maine, they are bulky but do fold flat-ish, so they're great when riding in the car or on a bike (the smaller version with the short handles can balance on handlebars well) but not really for carrying around on a regular basis while on foot.

Best Design: Envirosax Bag

Envirosax

Since 2004, Envirosax has been making bags out of polyester that’s water-resistant and printed with lead-free and low-impact dyes. The regular size carries up to 44 pounds of weight and is so tough it can last for a decade or longer. Seriously, you can spill everything imaginable in these bags, wash and dry them every which way, and they'll hold their color and shape. The company has dozens of prints as well as print collections to fit anyone’s personal style, from classic designs to modern, art-inspired (check out the Met Museum collection), and more, and styles are always changing.

Best Canvas: EcoBags Organic Cotton Canvas Tote

EcoBags Organic Cotton Canvas Tote

Made from 100% organic cotton canvas, these bags have nice long handles for comfortable shoulder-carrying. The flat bottoms allow for easier packing but still fold flat for storage. EcoBags is a woman-owned, certified B-corporation (with a triple bottom line of People, Planet, and Profit) and has been working with its factory in India for over 20 years, ensuring both fair pay for workers and extended health coverage, retirement benefits, vacations, and holidays for employees.

Best Backpack: Girlfriend Backpack

Girlfriend Backpack

If you like to take a backpack for your walk or bike ride to the grocery store, you’ll want something that’s heavy duty and washable. This sleek backpack is available in five colors has a roomy interior. It has padded adjustable straps, and two non-zippered side pockets that are perfect for stashing bottles. 

But what we really love is that this bag is not only made from recycled water bottles, but itself can be recycled through the ReGirlfriend program. You can machine wash it on cold, and let it air dry flat.

Final Verdict

Our top choice for a reusable grocery bag is the ChicoBag Original Tote (view on Amazon). However, if you need to carry really heavy loads, consider the extra-sturdy the Open-Top Boat and Tote (view at L.L. Bean). 

What to Look for in a Reusable Grocery Bag

Material

Canvas bags are ubiquitous, given away for magazine subscriptions and nonprofit donations and promotions. Many of us end up with a collection of these bags, but are they eco-friendly? They can be, but look for organic cotton if you are going to buy them, and opt for lighter-weight bags that can fold and be carried easily. While growing cotton does use a lot of water to grow, it’s also biodegradable (as long as it’s 100% cotton), which is an advantage that canvas bags have over any that are made from polyester or nylon, which won’t degrade.

“While organic cotton is better, both conventional and organic cotton use a significant amount of water, so the environmental impact of the fabric bag is directly proportional to its weight,” says energy and sustainability management consultant Pablo Päster.

Easy to Pack

By now, remembering our bags at the grocery store has become a habit for many of us. (It doesn’t hurt that many supermarkets have signs reminding us to bring them in.) But remembering them at other times can be a challenge—the simplest way is not to forget? Keep bags in your bag. Or your pocket, on your keychain, or in the bowls with your keys and sunglasses by the front door.

Most reusable bags are designed from light material that can easily roll up to be secured with a band or snap, and others will fold into a pocket that’s made from part of the bag itself, a separate pouch. So they won’t take up a lot of space—when you unpack, just throw them right back into your bag or clip them back onto your keychain. Canvas bags are the exception here as they less easily collapse, but they can be slung over the shoulder while empty and still look great (plus you can put a couple of extra bags in the otherwise empty one). Do what works for your life and style.

FAQs

Are reusable grocery bags washable?

Yes, most reusable bags are made from cotton canvas or a lighter cotton fabric, nylon or polyester, and all of those can go right in the washing machine, and you can use whatever detergent you normally do. Spot-clean as you would clothing. More than 99% of harmful bacteria will be killed or removed in the washing process. You should line-dry most of your bags (or tumble dry on low)—their straps are less likely to get caught line drying and you can stretch and de-wrinkle your bags when hung to dry more easily as well. The only reusable bags that you shouldn’t put in the washing machine are waxed cotton bags, which need to be washed using a sponge soaked with soapy water and wiped down.

Are reusable grocery bags unsanitary?

They are if you never wash them—and you should, considering you put food in them. In a University of Arizona study, fully 97% of participants said they never washed their reusable bags. When scientists tested bags collected from Tucson, San Francisco, and Los Angeles and tested them, half were found to contain fecal coliform bacteria and 8% tested positive for E. coli. The study also found hand or machine-washing reduced bacteria by 99.9%. 

Can you recycle reusable grocery bags?

For the most part, no, though you can reuse them. Most nylon and polyester bags can’t be recycled, and cotton totes aren’t recyclable although they might be downcycled if you donate them to a used clothing store that makes shoddy (stuffing used for some furniture) from processed textiles. Cotton totes might be biodegradable (if they are 100% cotton, not stitched with a polyester thread, and not printed on with anything other than biodegradable dyes). 

You can reuse totes that are worn or stained by washing them and then using them for clothing storage; food storage (they are ideal for storing potatoes and onions as they let air in but keep sun/light away);  or shoe storage. If you donate food to a bank or charity, provide it in reusable bags they can pass along for use by their clients. You can also use them as gift bags, give them away at the supermarket to anyone who doesn’t have one with them, or leave them filled with clothes and other items when you donate to Goodwill or Salvation Army. ChicoBags will also take any reusable bag back, including their own. 

Why Trust Treehugger?

Starre Vartan has been covering sustainable consumer products for 15 years, 10 of those with Treehugger (under the MNN brand). She’s also a science writer who has covered biotech, astrobiology, animals, women’s health, and space for a variety of publications including Scientific American and National Geographic. She has personally tested compostable packaging in her backyard compost heap, a variety of solar chargers, hybrid cars, and other products meant to leave a lighter footprint.

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