Get a Handle on Remembering Your Reusable Shopping Bags

Jodi Helmer by Jodi Helmer | January 19th, 2012 | 13 Comments
topic: Green Living

reusable shopping bagsLast week I walked out of the supermarket with four paper bags and no she-brings-her-own-bags discount on my receipt. I forgot my canvas shopping bags — again. I walked the three blocks home worrying that the thin little handles would break from the weight of the apples, milk and laundry detergent; and thinking of ways to make sure I didn’t commit the same environmental indiscretion next time.

I know it’s important to BYOB (bring your own bags): In the United States alone, 12 million barrels of oil and 14 million trees go into making the plastic and paper bags we use every year. According to the non-profit group Natural Capitalism Solutions, five canvas shopping bags that are reused multiple times can replace up to 520 plastic bags in a year. So why did I find myself standing in the produce aisle thinking, “I forgot to bring bags again!” as I loaded carrots and peppers into my cart?

It’s time to come up with a better plan for remembering my reusable shopping bags the next time I go to the supermarket. Here are a few things I’m going to try:

  • eco zip toteStash bags in my purse: The bags I take to the supermarket (when I remember to take them) roll up into tiny little packages that are smaller than my wallet. Since I never forget my purse when I go to the supermarket, keeping the bags tucked inside seems like a foolproof solution. Obviously this trick won’t work if you have oversized bags and a teeny-tiny purse. Consider Gaiam’s 100% Recycled Eco Zip Tote, a reusable shopping bag that folds into a little pouch that’s about the size of a cell phone.
  • envirosax bagKeep extra bags in the trunk: When it comes to reusable shopping bags, I love Envirosax. These nylon bags are waterproof and deep enough to hold a lot of groceries, and they have oversized handles that are perfect for looping over my shoulders. And they’re cute, too. But I’m going to start keeping an extra stash of canvas bags in the trunk of the car. The next time I forget my favorites, I’ll have a few extras handy at checkout.
  • Cough up the cash: I’m not embarrassed to admit that I get a little thrill out of saving a bit of money for bringing my own bags. (Supermarkets like Whole Foods and Safeway often take 5 cents off of your bill for every reusable bag you bring). So, the next time I forget to bring bags — and save zero cents — I’m going to come home and put $5 in a jar. At the end of the year, I’ll donate the money to my favorite charity.

Despite my best intentions, I’m sure I’ll eventually wind up at the supermarket checkout with a full cart and no reusable bags in sight. Of course I’ll remember to recycle any plastic and paper bags I bring home from the store … but maybe you have more ideas to help us all remember to bring our bags?


  1. I hear ya!

    I have a large collection of reusable bags, including some very nice insulated models for perishables. Like yourself, though, I struggled – and still do – to remember to have ‘em along with me. I’ve been using cloth bags for years, dating back to shopping without a car; those plastic bag handles are murder on your hands as you walk home! And like you, once I was driving again, the bags would be at home, neatly put away, only to be remembered as I was at the store approaching the checkout.

    Part of what “works” for me now is to keep my shopping bags where I keep my purse when at home. That way, since I will grab my purse, I remember to grab the bags because they’re right there. I also have enough accumulated reusable bags to stash a couple in the trunk of the car for unplanned visits to the store. I realise, thought, that if you are someone who swaps out purses frequently, this might not be the best option.

    I have a bag I received with an online cosmetics purchase that rolls up and that comes with attached straps to keep it rolled that I can tuck into my purse for “whenever”. I find this bag is also great for times when I’m not actually at the grocery store, avoiding more plastic bags. It holds department store purchases and books really well because it’s very, very roomy.

    Now, if I could just get my husband to remember to bring those bags along. I guess that is the next phase in our ‘greening’. *grin*

    Hope this helps!

    Jane McLernon | January 14th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  2. I, too, have a tough time remembering to bring my bags — partly because I tend often to grocery shop on the fly, without planning ahead. One thing that’s helped is if I make sure to return my reusable bags to the car as soon as I’ve unloaded them in the house. Another key is to put them on the floor of the passenger side, rather than in the trunk: that way, I see them when I am about to go into the store. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten to the checkstand and unloaded my groceries, remembering only then that I left the bags in the trunk! I either have to make someone behind me wait while I go retrieve them, or suck it up and take the paper or plastic while chastising myself for forgetting again. I have found that if they are ‘in sight,’ they are easy to remember. My friend in London, who has long been used to using her own bags, says the key there was when a tax was imposed on plastic bags some years ago, to the tune of a quarter or so each (that would probably be closer to 50 cents, at the current exchange rate) — it didn’t take many times of shelling out half a pound or more before the incentive to remember the bags grew. But we aren’t as likely in the U.S. to use a stick over a carrot to change behavior.

    Wendy Redal | January 14th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  3. Thanks for the feedback!

    Jane: It took me a while to green my partner, too! Now he’s better about remembering the canvas bags than I am.

    Wendy: I LOVE the idea of putting a tax on plastic bags. You’re right: We’d remember to bring reusable shopping bags if we knew it was going to cost us money *not to. Toronto, Canada, is set to introduce a 5-cent/bag fee later this year). Some cities, like San Francisco, have gone as far as banning plastic bags, which I think is a great idea.


    Jodi Helmer | January 15th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  4. After you get done removing your groceries take the reusable bags back to your car.

    Tabitha | January 16th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  5. If you forget your reuseable bags in the car, you can always pack your items in the parking lot, instead of at the cashier. You won’t hold anyone up, and you can take your time.

    Another dilemma, what if you live in an urban centre, don’t drive, and shop on the fly?

    Meano | September 10th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  6. yeah.. we should use more eco-friendly bags… i always tell my wife that. :P

    dave hogan | September 12th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  7. We should all use eco – friendly bags..

    Alline - Cheap Vera Bradley Bags | December 20th, 2009 | Comment Permalink
  8. Wow, very interesting article about eco-friendly bags, never thought of that concept, thanks for the blog.

    Upbids | August 16th, 2010 | Comment Permalink
  9. I love reusable bags! Saves the environment and if you get luckier, you’d get a really lovely one. I hope they have these designs in our region.

    Betty @ Wholesale Handbags | March 4th, 2011 | Comment Permalink
  10. I normally use cotton bags made at home, but they are also not very strong to hold heavy grocery items. I have one or two canvas bags, but mostly I use them only when I know that I am going for that particular item, and it could be heavy.

    Reusable Shopping Bags | October 10th, 2013 | Comment Permalink
  11. Great and very good blog about shopping bag handle. This blog is very charming. Its looks like cotton bag. Its really colourful bag. Thanks for your feedback and your good suggestion about shopping bag…

    Mark Robinson | July 23rd, 2014 | Comment Permalink
  12. Hey,
    Thanks for sharing such a great article with us. Its really nice article about Eco-friendly cotton tote bags. I normally use cotton tote bags for carrying groceries. Thanks for your feedback & suggestions. Thanks A lot.

    Alena Marth | January 2nd, 2015 | Comment Permalink
  13. If you’re a shopping list person, whether paper, or on your phone, put “Remember Shopping Bags” at the top of it.
    Buy (or make) some attractive bags that reflect “you”, and you might get enough compliments that you’ll remember them more often.
    Your donation idea (negative reinforcement) is a good idea, too. (My negative reinforcement was to donate to a food bank. I know that many who use food banks really do need the food; but, there are some who don’t really need it, and take advantage of it, simply because it’s available.)
    Leave a note for yourself on the steering wheel.
    Put the bags where you can quickly grab them on the way out the door.

    Abby | June 26th, 2016 | Comment Permalink

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