Long Beach & Unincorporated parts of LA now have bans on disposable bags at major stores- grocery stores, drugstores and “big box stores” (like Target & Wal-Mart). You’ll need to bring your own reusable bag or pay 10 cents per bag. (Smaller stores and farmer’s markets have a later deadline to comply with the ban)
A lot of people whine about these bans, saying that they’ll just pay for the plastic bags anyways- that it’ll end up being cheaper than the reusable bags in the long run. (A lot of politicians try to argue against the bans by saying that buying the plastic bags winds up being more cost effective for the poor)
Since I’ve been using reusable bags for the last two years, I figured I’d share my breakdown for you.
A typical run to the grocery store for me (I go twice a week) sees me bringing three reusable bags. Each bag cost me about $2 at the store. I have other bags, including insulated bags to help keep my frozen stuff cold… but my basic set up is 3 of my $2 canvas bags. It would take about 6 plastic bags to take the place of my 3 reusable bags. (Typically, any reusable bag will take the place of two grocery store style plastic bags) So let’s do the math.
To get started, 3 reusable bags at $2, cost me $6 total. Buying the 6 plastic bags I would use at 10 cents comes out to 60 cents. $6/60 cents… after only 10 trips to the grocery store, I’ve already paid for my initial investment. And for 10 trips with 6 bags at a time… that’s 60 plastic bags that I’ve kept out of the trash.
If you don’t live in an area with a ban and want to keep using plastic bags, I would like to encourage you to recycle your plastic bags. Just rinse them out, let them dry and take them back to your grocery store. Nearly every major grocery store has a bin to return them to so that they can be turned into new shopping bags. That’ll keep them from the dump as well.
The only problem you’re going to face is remembering to keep them in your car. In the beginning I forgot to bring mine, but now I’ve accumulated a large collection of bags- so I always have bags in my van.
Tips on buying reusable grocery bags:
1. Avoid the bags that come with plastic inserts on the bottom. They use the plastic to distribute the weight of your groceries so that they can use cheaper fabric. But the plastic will shatter or vanish to whatever dimension lost socks go to, and then you’ll be stuck with a bag that will rip pretty quickly.
2. Buy sturdy bags. If you’re buying fabric bags, make sure that it’s a heavy weight canvas and that the straps seem like they’re sewn on well. If you think the fabric’s thin enough that something might poke through, don’t get it. If you’re buying a bag that seems to be made of a heavier weight plastic (like a tarp), make sure the straps are reinforced well.
3. If you’re splurging on an insulated bag for your groceries, buying one that again is sewn well. Insulated bags are more expensive, so this might actually be where you make your investment. My mom bought an insulated bag from Trader Joe’s that kept cold foods extremely cold on an 8 hour car ride with a couple cold packs inside.
4. There are plenty of lightweight reusable bags that can fold into small little pouches. While they aren’t really suited for groceries, they’re great for replacing the bags that you’d use at Target or Wal-Mart. In these, look for bags with wider straps in the fabric- they’ll be easier to carry. (For these bags, don’t be afraid to invest in a slightly more expensive bag. You’re paying for quality craftsmanship & design, so that they can carry a bit more weight than you would expect)
The bottom line? Take a little time and make sure that you’re buying a well-made bag. Nobody wants to spend a few dollars on a bag that’s going to rip after a few trips to the store. Invest in a well made bag, and you’ll be recoup the money you spent in no time at all.