Urban Green: Reusable Shopping Bags for Folks on the Move
Trying to go green in the city? Shop frequently on foot? If so, you may be finding the freebie fabric bags with the cardboard bottom inserts a little too bulky for your pocketbook, day pack or briefcase. Speaking for myself, I sometimes forget my bags in the car or occasionally ride with someone else. Whatever your reasons for having difficulties with the traditionally styled ones, bags designed for a more intense urban lifestyle can mean the difference between walking the green line or not. To help out, I searched the internet until my eyes were bleary. Following are my top three picks for design and value, as well as some resources for the DIY crowd.
With many of the styles out there, you're lucky if they fold down at all. Hannaford bags have a decent design, and store flat in the back storage pockets of our vehicle's seat covers, and portable freezer totes. But those work well only if assuming two things. First, that it's even feasible to have a car in the city where you live. Second, that you'll remember to bring them from the car. Additionally, not every shopping trip is planned or happens when you are driving your own car. You might be walking by someplace, or carpooling with a friend. Try having a shopping bag or two that are designed to fit compactly in your purse, back pocket or messenger bag. Even soccer moms are occasionally caught without their car stash of bargain reusables.
The main purpose of this article however, is to ferret out those designs able to stand up to living in the urban jungle and perhaps meet the needs of a frequently distracted suburban blogger or two. (Who, me?) I narrowed the selection down to my top three design and value picks, and contacted the companies individually to request product samples. Next, I let them know I'd be putting the bags through their paces via field tests, and writing up the results for all of you. Without further ado, here's how it all went down.
Flip and Tumble
About the size of a peach when closed, this bag comes in fun colors with a casual yet highly functional design. The pouch remains attached to the bag and is made of a stretchier fabric than the rest of the bag, which is made of a rip-stop type of nylon. This allows for increased ease of packing when you are putting it back in your purse. (Here's a quick demonstration video.) There's also a small band of flannel sewn into the interior of the shoulder strap to assist with slippage.
The bag holds a fair amount and has enough strap room to fit over the shoulder without bulking up too much under your arm. If you are a carry-your-bag-with-your-arms-at-your-sides type of person, the flip and tumble should work fine for that as well. Since I'm vertically challenged, it drags on the ground a bit for me. Nothing that can't be solved with a wrap or two around the palm to take up the slack, though. I field tested this for smooth storage in the purse and for sturdiness when carrying canned tomato products and wine along with lighter grocery items. No straining of the seams was noticed, and the ball squishes into a flat enough state to fit in some of the narrower purse pockets. These bags are available directly from the company, and also from Amazon. The MSRP is twelve dollars. My top two favorite things about this design? No separate pieces and the no fuss pack up.
Next on the list was the Baggu bag. These are also made of a rip-stop nylon, but with a totally different design. They have two straps instead of one, and while there's still arm room to carry a full bag over your shoulder in relative comfort, it doesn't drag on the ground for short folks like me when carried with straight arms. When field tested. It also stood up to a reasonable amount of weight and was reasonably easy to refold and put in its pouch. (Here's a video.)
If you tend to get a bit distracted with check out and cash register chaos as I do, I recommend putting the pouch in the bottom of the bag as soon as you open it. It'll be right where you need it when it comes time to fold everything back up. Not only is the storage of this bag flat enough to fit into narrower purse compartments, it's also an excellent “green for guys” design, as it can fit in whatever back pocket is not being used for your wallet. So if you're not a day pack kind of dude, you'll still be prepared. Note: trying to refold on the street in mid air isn't the easiest thing to do, as my husband found out. Most often though, you'll be repacking on your counter or table top at home where folding up is a breeze. The MSRP's range from six dollars for the baby Baggu, eight dollars for the regular, and fourteen dollars for the extra large. My top two things of note about this one were the thin, flat storage capabilities and the range of masculine and feminine colors. Available directly from the company site, or from Amazon.
A different design yet again, these bags roll up in a tube shape secured by a Velcro strap. (There's a repeating animated presentation on how to re-roll them on the front page of the web site.) This one's also a two-strapper. While not flat, it's still not exceptionally bulky either and fits easily into the front slot of my purse. This bag comes in three sizes: mini ($6.75), regular ($9.95), and macro ($11.95).
I had the opportunity to check out all three sizes. To tell you the truth, the mini is still a pretty decent size. I took it on a Walgreen's run, and it was a comfortable size for a “just need to grab a couple of small things” trip to the store. The product features a gusseted flat bottom style and loads of color options. You can also pick them up in sets of three. As the name suggests, the bag is seriously “roomy”. Sturdily stitched and extremely comfortable to carry, this would also be an excellent bag of choice for those living in the urban jungle. These are also available from the company and Amazon. Top two things? For this one I'll have to go with the built in flat bottom design and comfort in carrying it over the shoulder.
All three are made of similar lightweight fabrics that still offer reasonable weight tolerance. This was one of two common elements I noticed that enables them all to store compactly. The other is the fact that none of them have the large cardboard flat-bottom insert that many of the store brand shopping bags come with. Clearly, they cost more money as well. While I can't afford to go and pick up a dozen tomorrow, I would be willing to dish out for a couple to have on hand in a purse, day pack or coat pocket. The deciding factor in this particular decision, at least for me, is the precision design factor. If greater compact storage is what it takes for me to keep at least one eco bag on hand for unplanned stops, I'm willing to go there. Also, it's a one time expense more easily absorbed than creating an extra monthly bill for consumable products I may not be able to squeeze into the budget on a regular basis.
There are other options on the market. But of all the ones I found, I felt these three offered the greatest amount of precision design combined with the best value. (For example, if a brand started out at thirty bucks a pop, I didn't even include them in the roundup.) Each brings something unique to the table when it comes to the hectic urban lifestyle. The Flip and Tumble: greatest out of the box thinking when it came to design and some serious fun factor. Baggu: Greatest unisex appeal and acknowledgement of men's shopping needs. RUME: A streamlined roll up storage most well suited to those in the “phone-keys-wallet” school of shopping prep. While certain city dwellers will find all three designs workable, others will have a unique lifestyle facet or way of doing things that makes one design fit their needs more than others. I'll leave you to make those decisions for yourself. On to the DIY portion of this article.
If you feel you have the time and ability to crank out something of your own, I did find a few options online for the creative urban craftster. This one minute market bag idea created from an old tank top is quite cute. The link also has some ideas for creating drawstring bags out of old T-shirts. They still have an insert though, so they might be better suited to a planned trip or stuffing in the bottom of a gym bag to at least be able to multi-task. This T-shirt bag idea is from a 10 year old who is turning them into a business. Again, not the precision design factor for light packing city dwellers, but there is no bottom insert in this one, and you can at least stuff them in your gym bag. In fact, if I can ever find time to DIY and get my sewing skills back into shape again, this may be a solution for what to do with all the old race T-shirts my husband has. The mother of all resource pages on the subject however, has got to be this one from Tip Nut. Loads of free pattern ideas are available, a few of which appear to be workable for sliding into your purse. You might even recognize the sheer curtains turned produce bags pattern I featured in a recent eco hack article.
So that's it. My best shot at a breakdown of green shopping bags for urbanites. Got another recommendation? Share the love in the usual location. Have a great day, everybody!