Jun 16, 2016

Alternatives to Plastic Grocery Bags

You know some of the dangers of plastic bags, and read about my reusable bag journey, but there are a number of alternatives to getting the plastic grocery bag from the store. Here we'll discuss some pros and cons of each.

Paper Bag

Paper bags are a great alternative to plastic bags. Many grocery stores still carry them, but you generally have to ask. When I forget my reusable bags, or purchase more items than will fit in my bag(s), I ask for paper. Unfortunately paper bags actually use more energy than plastic bags to produce, but they are readily recyclable, compostable, or reusable.

Square reusable bag

This is the style of reusable bag I had started with (these are adorable!*). They are generally very sturdy and hold a large number of groceries, some of them even have plastic sheets to reinforce the bottom of the bag. The negatives to them are that they are made from plastic, and generally not a recyclable form of plastic. They also are quite bulky to transport when not being used. I was always forgetting to put them in my car so I never had them with me! However many people find great success with this style of reusable bag.

Fold up reusable bag

This is the style I predominately use now. I love that it can fold up and fit in my purse. When they are folded it is roughly the size of a glasses case. I am continually impressed with how much a single bag can carry. Some downsides are that it is still made of non-recyclable plastic, however there are some companies which allow you to send the bag back to the company for them to recycle. They have so many cute alternatives now including a dog, rosepattern or plain*.

Cotton bag

This is the first entirely plastic-free alternative! If made with 100% cotton there is no plastic. If the bag breaks or rips you could turn it into rags or even just throw it into the garden to decompose (though I bet this would take a while!). Since it is made from a growing plant it does take quite a bit of energy to produce, but given the life of the bag, and possibilities for reusing it, you can overcome it. However they can come in many different designs*. I really like this pineapple one*!


This may be a little unconventional, but most people have a backpack* laying around. If you know you aren't going to be purchasing many items you can just put it in the backpack. This also allows you to keep your arms free to carry more items. Just remember to put the heavy items on the bottom and eggs and bread on top! I actually used a backpack several times when living at my old house when I would bike to the grocery store. I could fit the groceries on my back and have my hands free for important things like steering. I have tried to hang the bags from the handle bars before, but let me tell you, it is much safer to use a backpack!

Pillow case

I can't say that I've done this, or seen anyone do this. However, why couldn't it be done?! Kids use them on Halloween. Most people have them laying around their house and they can fit quite a lot. Besides, the bags are really only used to keep items together while transporting them out to the car and then back into the house, we don't need to make a huge fashion statement. An added bonus is that pillow cases* are easily cleaned if soiled.

T-shirt bag

Another idea I've seen is converting an old t-shirt into a bag. You can help save the planet and show your support for your favorite athletics team or band. Here is a no-sew tutorial and here is one if you have some sewing skills.

This is my list of traditional and less traditional alternatives to plastic grocery bags. Are you participating in the #skipthebag challenge? What do you use?

*This is an affiliate links, see disclosure.

Wanting to forgo plastic bags, but not sure what to use? Look no further.


  1. HI Katy,
    I love your ideas of alternatives to plastic bags especially the pillow case> I never thought about using them but it is a great ideas. Sharing on tweeter & pinnng.

    1. Kids use pillow cases for Halloween, I figure why not for groceries. Thanks!