Why I Shop With Reusable Grocery Boxes Instead of Bags

© K Martinko -- My green box after a trip to the grocery store. K Martinko -- My green box after a trip to the grocery store

Reusable boxes make sense for a lot of reasons. Here's why a switch can make your grocery shopping routine much easier.

“Do you need bags?” This is the first question I hear from the grocery cashier as I approach the checkout. “No,” I reply, handing over my stack of boxes.

Yes, you read that correctly. I shop with reusable boxes, not bags. The truth is, I don’t like reusable grocery bags. They’re bulky, especially when you’re carrying six of them. They get dirty and are hard to wash. Depending on the material, they can be difficult to stand up and pack well, and soft foods tend to get crushed. They’re never filled to capacity because they might split, items may fall out, or they’ll get too heavy to carry with those thin handles.

Difficulties of Reusable Bags

It seems I’m not the only person who feels annoyed by reusable bags. A 2014 online poll by marketing research firm Edelman Berland found that fifty percent of shoppers still choose single-use plastic bags, “despite also owning reusable bags and recognizing their benefits.” Whether these numbers are due to laziness, forgetfulness, or apathy, the point is that reusable bags aren’t catching on with the popularity that was predicted over the past decade.

Benefits of Boxes

This is why I love my reusable boxes. I use President’s Choice Green Bins (pictured above) and a collapsible SnapBasket (shown below). They are virtually indestructible, versatile, and immensely helpful. Here’s why I love them:

Boxes can hold far more than bags. In fact, one box holds approximately 3-4 bags’ worth of groceries. I exceed the box’s capacity every time I pack it, with items balanced on top, whereas I used to underpack bags for fear of breaking.

Boxes are easier to pack. They’re conducive to the separation of soft and heavy items, which means a bunch of cilantro is less likely to get squashed by a shifting can of beans than when I toss things in a bag (even if I do take care).

Boxes make zero waste shopping much easier. The boxes stack and fit easily into a grocery cart, so if I forget my cloth produce bags, I can put the fruits and vegetables directly into the box, where they are safely contained and won’t roll around the cart.

Boxes are easier to clean than bags, which have to be laundered (and, honestly, how often do you really wash those bags?) I spray hot water with a dash of dish detergent into the bottom, scrub it, rinse, and set it out to dry in the sunshine.

The hard plastic boxes are highly versatile. I use mine for fruit-picking and collecting CSA (community supported agriculture) shares on a weekly basis. It doubles as a pail for weeds when I’m gardening. On hot summer days I fill it with water and turn it into a mini pool for my toddler.

The collapsible box is useful, too. It folds down to a super-light rectangle that’s more compact even than a reusable bag, yet can carry much more (up to 25 pounds).


© CleverMade -- This is the SnapBasket I use for shopping. It folds down completely flat.

Most importantly, I don’t forget the boxes as often as I did my reusable bags. Maybe this is because they’re bigger and bulkier, and so it’s more noticeable if they’re not in the car.

When I don’t have my boxes on hand, I opt for cardboard boxes provided by the store. Sometimes these are stored at the front, near the cash, for easy access. Other times I ask an employee in the produce section; they’re always happy to hand over an extra box.

While I don’t like bringing cardboard home (it goes against my zero waste aspirations and, since my town doesn’t offer curbside cardboard recycling, requires an extra trip to the recycling facility), at least it means I’m using something that’s already been made. No additional resources are being tapped to get my groceries home that day.

While some might argue that boxes only work for people with cars, they are also great for bicycle trailers. Whenever I make the trip by bike, hauling my kids’ bike trailer behind, the boxes are perfect for holding the food stable and upright.