Friday 15 February 2019

Reusable Produce Bags ~ My Thoughts on Different Types

Reusable shopping bags are becoming more and more prevalent, depending on where you live, but over here in Australia reusable produce bags are less common. Over the last twelve months I've used four different types of reusable produce bags...

Four reusable produce bags tried and tested ~ Threading My Way

... one set of bags I made myself, and three sets of store bought mesh bags:-
  • Organic cotton produce bags
  • Cotton muslin produce bags
  • Mesh produce bags
  • Recycled PET mesh produce bags

Twelve months ago I purchased some mesh produce bags from Tulgeen, a group providing people with disabilities an opportunity to work in paid, meaningful employment - a win win, for the people making the bags and the environment.

The bags are light, yet durable, with the contents readily seen through the fine synthetic mesh. I emailed the company in the hopes that the mesh was recycled PET, but it's not.

Each bag measures 30cm x 32cm and weighs just over 10g. Over the course of the year, the bags have been washed often, with drying time next to none.

These bags are made in Australia - so good to see when just about everything is now produced overseas. Even with twelve months use, the bags are showing no signs of wear.

They come with a little calico bag, but the reusable bags need to be folded carefully for them to fit. When I use them, no problem, but Mr TMW doesn't have the patience to put them back in the calico bag.

I didn't have enough of the mesh bags, so thought I'd experiment and sew some bags - my second set of reusable produce bags - cotton muslin bags, made about nine months ago.

The cotton muslin bags are very light and relatively easy to see through, but I have had to re-sew a couple of the seams. Due to the waviness of the fabric, I found it a little hard to cut. I most definitely should have sewn wider seams, then there'd have been no problem.

The cord is a flat cotton, which is a little hard to close. A round cord would have been better. In reality, however, you really don't need a cord. The plastic produce bags still provided by the shops don't have a cord, and they are just fine at keeping fruit and vegetables contained.

I used my own Quick and Easy Drawstring Bag tutorial to make the bags, but you could use any unlined drawstring bag tutorial - just use one drawstring cord instead of two.

Old net curtains would do just as good a job as the cotton muslin. Oh, when I think of all the net curtains I've given away over the years!!! 

What other materials do you think could be sewn into produce bags?

Made from organic cotton, my third set of produce bags have held up well and are still going strong - Ever Eco Reusable Organic Cotton Produce Bags (affiliate link). Being a thickish fabric, the contents are not always immediately obvious. None of the checkout operators have complained, though. If they're not sure, they just open the top of the bag. 

Of all the bags I've tried, these are the heaviest, weighing in at 35g - not enough to make any difference to the overall cost of my fruit and veggies. At 30cm x 40cm, they're a decent size.

I was attracted to these bags both because they were made from cotton, and the fact that it was organic cotton, and unbleached at that. Cotton is a natural fabric, and this appeals to me. The problem is, though, that cotton is one of the most water and chemical intensive crops to grow. Opinion is divided as to whether growing organic cotton uses more, or less water.

The fourth set of reusable produce bags are made from recycled plastic drink bottles - Onya rPET produce bags (affiliate link). Apparently it takes 10 drink bottles to make one 30cm x 25cm bag. The mesh is very fine, so the contents are easily recognisable without having to open the bag.

Weighing just 10g, the bags are very light, and they are soft to the touch, too.

The label says the bags are washable, but I haven't had the need to yet, as they are the most recently purchased - just before Christmas - and I haven't used them a lot. I bought an extra set when I was buying some as presents.

Each set of rPET bags comes with a handy carry pouch with a clip on the strap.

If you are after a small bag to keep your produce bags organised, perhaps you could cut off the sleeve of a shirt and make a drawstring bag.

Mr TMW is sold on the mesh produce bags from Tulgeen. They were the first ones I purchased and he's claimed the lot - two sets of five bags. I've shown him the others, but he's sticking with the ones he has. Mr TMW's theory - why change what works. He gets lots of positive comments from the checkout operators, and has been asked many times where he got the bags. Ha, ha... he had to come home and ask where I bought them.

I don't see the weight of produce bags a problem, unless you were to choose a heavy material when making your own. Mine range from 10g - 35g. From lightest to heaviest... rPET, Tulgeen mesh bags, my handmade bags (this is a guess) and lastly the organic cotton.

All bags are washable - the rPET by hand and the rest by machine. I throw the machine washable ones in with tea towels and the only ones showing signs of wear are my handmade ones (seams not wide enough). I haven't tried it yet, but I think both the mesh bags could be rinsed under the kitchen tap. They most certainly dry the quickest - by a long shot.

As far as easily seeing the contents, the rPET bags are a definite winner, with the Tulgeen mesh bags coming second. Handmade ones sewn with net curtains could quite possibly rival the rPET for first place here.

All bags (including my handmade ones if sewn properly) are strong and durable. I've re-sewn the offending seams and they're holding up well.

The Tulgeen mesh bags are made in Australia, as are my handmade ones. Both of the others are made by Aussie companies, but I'm not sure where. I'm guessing if it were in Australia it would be advertised. Where the fabric comes from - I have no idea for any of the bags. Why do I care if they're made in Australia? It's better for our economy and better for the environment. The less distance they have to travel, the better their transport footprint - less fuel, etc.

From a socially responsible point of view, the Tulgeen bags are the only ones that benefit others. That was a big reason for me buying them in the first place.

The environmental impact of the fabric used in the bags is complex, as there are so many factors to consider - energy and resources used in production for a start.  I think the recycled PET bags are a standout here.

End of life is another environmental factor. I've read that cotton fabric can be composted. Perhaps it may in a commercial facility, but it hasn't worked previously in my home compost bin. I'd definitely use the two types of cotton bags for dusters or rags if they ever become unusable. Maybe if I cut them into very small pieces, they may have a chance of composting. The Tulgeen mesh bags are a synthetic fabric and definitely can't be composted, nor recycled that I know of. I don't see why the recycled PET couldn't be recycled the same way as soft plastics. Take your pick whether the cotton or recycled PET is best in this area.

And lastly, as far as the feel of the bags when I use them, the rPET come out on top, with the organic cotton a very close second. Both are very soft, with easy to close drawstrings. My handmade muslin bags are also soft, but the wrong cord prevents them from being easily closed. The Tulgeen mesh bags are much stiffer, and at first, slightly harder to close - neither of which are a problem.

So.... which bags do I like best? There's so many factors to consider I don't really have a favourite. IF the Tulgeen mesh bags were made from recycled PET, they'd be my first choice hands down, but they're not. Of my four types of bags, which would be your favourite?

Tell me about your experiences with reusable produce bags - what you like and why. Have you had a go at making your own?

Next week I'll share some patterns for making your own produce bags.

... Pam

Edited to add: Reusable Produce Bags ~ Make Your Own ~ Free Tutorials


  1. I think I would go for the Onya bags first as we have to create markets for the recycled materials. I'd probably pick the Tulgren next for the reasons you said, but having some of each would help more causes.

  2. I am in Canada and I have not used recycled produce bags but I do use recycled shopping bags. I like to buy fruits and veggies and just use no light plastic bags to hold it but my husband really hates that and won't do it. I had made some cotton bags to put veg and fruit in but he wouldn't use them either, since he does most of the shopping, it is a pain and I always have to remind him to use the reusable shopping bags! But he is getting better at it.
    If I could I would go for the rPet bags first and the Tulgren ones next.

    1. My husband was slower than me to adopt reusable bags of any type, but now that he has, he's behind it 100%. He even takes our - now very little - soft plastics to be recycled when he does the weekly grocery shopping. One step at a time. Let hubby get used to the reusable shopping bags first. Maybe forget about the produce bags till he's comfortable with the reusable shopping bags. That's how it worked in our household:-) :-)
      What are 'no light plastic bags'? I haven't heard of them.

  3. This is a wonderful overview of what is available as recycled bags for produce. I am actually looking for something that would work for when I buy nuts. The stores I like have nuts in bulk and a scoop and you can take as much as you want but I couldn't think of anything that would work other than calico, because sometimes one scoops up small pieces of nuts (soft nuts like walnuts even have some walnut dust). I wonder if the Onya rPet bags would work for this without me leaving pieces of nuts on the scale and everywhere else?

    1. I have't bought nuts in bulk since I've had reusable produce bags, so I can't speak from first hand experience, Gigi. The mesh on the Onya rPET bags is very fine - I'd guess at less than 1mm. While this may not let small pieces of nuts through, I imagine it wouldn't contain dust. A solid fabric, such as the calico you suggested, would most likely be a better option for anything that contains powders or dust.

      In a post I've just published, there's a link to A Guide to Reusable Produce Bags. While the author doesn't refer to nuts, she does have a photo of nuts in a mesh bag. I'm assuming, though, that the nuts pictured don't have a lot of dust. She does talk about bags for flour and fine powders. It's worth a read. The link in my post today is right near the end.

  4. I make small bags like this and give them as birthday presents to friends. First they wonder about it than they tell me how lovely to have those bags folded in their everyday bag. They enjoy the bags are washable. Thank you for this lovely post.


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