Top Alternatives to Disposable Plastic Shopping Bags

So you’ve decided to kick the plastic bag habit - great news! But won’t it make life difficult? How will you carry stuff home without a plastic bag?

Luckily, there are lots of great alternatives available that don’t cost the earth, so just choose whatever works best for you and your lifestyle.

How convenient are the alternatives?

You need a bag that does the job. Think about what you need a bag for – how much will it need to hold? Can it carry a heavy load?

Consider how practical it is for you to use. Large, bulky bags are fine if you always carry them in the car, but if it has to fit into your purse – or even your pocket – look for something lightweight that folds up small. If it doesn’t fit your lifestyle, you won’t carry it everywhere with you... which means you won’t have it when you need it!

How eco-friendly are the alternatives?

The more times you use your bag, the more eco-friendly it becomes. Each time you refuse a ‘free’ plastic bag you’re helping cut environmental pollution and plastic waste, so choose something durable.

A bag made from recycled, repurposed and/or recyclable material is a great choice, but beware! Paper bags are often seen as a sustainable alternative to plastic, but they are likely to be used only once and then thrown away. Paper bags actually use more energy than plastic bags to manufacture and, although they can be recycled or composted, around 80 percent of all paper bags end up in landfill.

So what are the best alternatives?

Top picks to replace plastic shopping bags

#1 Reusable tote bag – most large stores now sell reusable shopping bags, usually made from thick, durable plastic such as polypropylene. Reusable bags normally have a stiffened base and reinforced handles, making them sturdy enough to carry heavy loads.

These bags use the same amount of energy in production as 28 disposable plastic bags, and they’re not always recyclable, so be sure to reuse them to destruction to maximize the eco benefits.

#2 Cotton canvas, jute and calico bags – shopping bags made from natural materials look great and are usually eco-friendly.  100 percent plastic-free, washable and durable, some are so stylish you’ll want to use them for more than just shopping. Use them as a book bag, beach tote or everyday purse – and pop the groceries in at the end of the day!

Although they’re pliable and can be folded, these bags are normally too bulky to fit in your pocket.

#3 Folding reusable bag – for anyone who likes to drop by the store on a whim, the folding bag is a must-have. Usually made from lightweight, woven polyester or nylon, these bags fold up small enough to fit in a jeans pocket, so you need never be without a bag.

Due to the thin material, they’re not always the strongest or most long-lasting bags, but they are super-convenient for impromptu shopping trips.

#4 String bag – the string (or mesh) bag is a European classic. Often seen in the markets of France, these cotton bags are very strong and durable. As well as grocery shopping, they make a rather practical beach tote – just don’t put your keys in there, as they’ll fall through the mesh!

#5 Backpack – if you have a backpack, why not take it shopping? It’s probably not worth buying one specially, since the materials and manufacturing process are not so eco-friendly, but a backpack is great for bringing heavy items home from the store. It also frees up your hands to carry extra bags – or allows you to cycle home.

#6 Bike panniers – talking of cycling... if you’re a cyclist, why not use your bike panniers or basket to carry your groceries? Most bike bags are extremely hardwearing and will last many years – and of course you’ll use them for other purposes too. Take the weight off your arms and pack your shopping onto your bike instead.

#7 Cardboard boxes – it’s not glamorous, but using cardboard boxes to carry your shopping is very sustainable. If you simply need to take your stuff from the shop to the car, and the car to the house, boxes will do the job just fine. Many stores and markets have them freely available, or you can save delivery boxes at home and take them with you. Reuse until they wear out then recycle them.

#8 DIY and upcycled bags – for the ultimate eco-friendly shopping bag, make your own using repurposed material. You can make a bag from an old t-shirt, a pair of denims, a pillowcase or any unwanted fabric such as a pair of curtains or bath towel; there are even some no-sew tutorials online, so there’s no excuse not to make your own shopping bag.

What will you choose?

Start now by checking out some alternatives to plastic bags here: Best Reusable Alternatives

Whatever you pick, by choosing reusable bags over disposable plastic, you’re helping rid the world of plastic pollution – one shopping trip at a time.


  • Hey Francis. Did you mean you advocate on the use of reusable shopping bags?

    David Evans
  • We advocate on the use of shopping bags and other plastic materials that are harmful to our terrestrial and marine environments. Plastic wastes as wonder materials are destroying our biological diversity on the planet. We thank you and look forward to hearing from you soon.
    Best wishes. Francis Gako. Principal Conservationist. PES.Papua New Guinea

    Francis Gako

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