Produce Bags to Make or Buy

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Swapping cloth produce bags in for plastic produce bags was one of the first zero waste changes I ever made and one of the best. I have a visceral reaction to the squeaky sound that clingy plastic produce bags make as you attempt to get them open; once I learned more about plastic pollution and waste, I developed an environmentalist's aversion to them, as well. There are a few zero waste changes where I've never had a moment's regret for making the switch - menstrual cups, bamboo toothbrushes, cloth napkins - and this is one of them.

In case it's a change you haven't made yet, I put together my favorite resources for finding cloth produce bags. They're easy to make, and even easier to buy. I look for produce bags that are all cotton or linen. While I've also owned plastic mesh produce bags which have ripped within a year of use, my cotton and linen bags I've had for years and nary a hole.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Below, tutorials for those who'd like to make their own, and a list of favorite brands for those who wouldn't. Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.


-Tie a furoshiki cloth: The simplest produce bag of all is one that starts with a square of fabric - a tea towel, a napkin, an un-hemmed scrap. In a pinch, you can place produce in the middle and then tie the edges together to form a small sack. I've made use of this technique when caught at the farmers' market without a spare bag (evidence, here).

-Sew a drawstring bag: If you've sewn before, making your own produce bags is simple to master. I've made my own in the past, and I like that you can make any size you need. Two recommendations for those planning to DIY: I use French seams for mine, which ensures that edges left unfinished don't fray into whatever food you're buying. And, wash and dry the fabric several times prior to cutting and sewing to pre-shrink it. Around here we've ended up with a few accidentally shrunken bags, once fit for a baguette and now more suited to buying bulk carrots. If you're new to sewing, this homemade cloth produce bags tutorial is helpful.

-DIY Bento bags: You can also, of course, sew your own bento bags. They're a piece of fabric wizardry that, with a bit of folding and pinning, turns a single length of cloth into a three-dimensional bag. Once you have a few of these, you'll find you use them for everything: in addition to holding produce, mine have been knitting project bags, lunch boxes, dopp kits, foraging bags, and gift wrap. Here's a pattern for making your own.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless


-Simple Ecology: The first produce bags I ever purchased, my set of Simple Ecology bags from the summer of 2014 is still going strong. A bit stained, a bit softer, but no holes or worn patches to speak of. The external tags on the bags note the tare weight in ounces and grams.

-EcoBags: I like their mesh bags for larger items with skins like oranges and onions, and their solid cotton bags for smaller items like bulk salad greens, grains, or nuts. They also have a three-piece set of printed bags, but it's made of a thinner cotton that feels a bit flimsier.

-Ambatalia: Molly DeVries makes beautiful, reusable cloth goods for the home out of her studio in Mill Valley. Her bento bags are among my very favorite produce bags. I have a large one for bread and greens, and a few smaller ones that I use for everything from organizing snacks while traveling to buying a few apples to keeping small items corralled in my daily tote bag. She also makes a jar tote bag with fabric dividers for easier bulk shopping.

-Dans Le Sac: Made in Quebec out of tough, heavy-gauge cotton, these bags are long-lasting and designed to hold specific items. If you're a weekly baguette buyer, their long and skinny baguette bag may just solve all (or at least some) of your worries. See also their bread bag or drawstring sacks.

-Small makers: There are some beautiful ones available on Etsy. I love this selection of bags in printed linen, or these bread bags in solid colors of linen. This set shows the tare in ounces, pounds, and grams, which is helpful when checking out.

Cloth produce bags for a zero waste home | Litterless

Other favorite produce bags to make or buy? What are you using these days?

Make or Buy is a series that acknowledges that sometimes we want to make things ourselves, and sometimes we want to buy their sustainably made equivalent. Other zero waste gear to make or buy, here.

(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).

Zero Waste Body Butters to Make or Buy

Zero waste body butters and lotions in compostable, reusable, or recyclable containers | Litterless

May is a time to remember that I do, in fact, have skin under all those layers of winter clothing. That feet will not always be shod in socks, and that short-sleeve shirts will allow elbows to once again move freely. In short, it's a time to dig up some thick salves and body butters, if only as a way to remember that during all those months when it was 99% covered for 99% of the day I did, still, have a body.

Sometimes I make my own balms and butters, but more often lately I've been buying some from companies who package theirs in compostable or recyclable containers, like tins or cardboard tubes. Below, some notes on both ends of the make/buy spectrum:


-My favorite homemade body butter is still this one, which is a concoction of a few different solid ingredients whipped together into a light-as-air cream. It leaves a bit of a greasy feeling on your skin for a while, so it's best to use a very small amount or to have a set of pajamas to put on afterwards that you don't mind getting slightly, ah, ruined. It's also good for feet under a pair of thick socks.

-I've also been known to love an oil-and-beeswax based homemade salve, which is something I usually just wing, combining half olive oil and half beeswax in a double boiler with a few drops of essential oils until I like the consistency. If you've never made one before, this famed recipe from Mountain Rose Herbs is easy to adapt and a good place to start.

-Either of the above can be poured into whatever clean, empty container you'd like to reuse: perhaps a saved lip balm tin, a glass jar, or something bought especially for the purpose. They're satisfying recipes for refilling an empty balm container bought elsewhere after the original runs out. I poured a recent small batch of mine into the tiny unlabeled glass jar pictured second from right, which was one I saved from something-or-other that ran out earlier this year.

Zero waste body butters and lotions in compostable, reusable, or recyclable containers | Litterless


Some of the links below are affiliate links, which means Litterless may make a small commission on items purchased.

-S.W. Basics: I've been a fan of S.W. Basics since learning about founder Adina Grigore's approach to natural beauty when I first read her book a few years ago. Their products all have a super-short, super-clean ingredients list and come in glass or metal containers; their reputation for being the cleanest beauty brand out there is well-deserved. They make a three-ingredient unscented cream that I really love (you can test out the $10 mini version to make sure you love it, too). It comes in a glass jar, which I'll re-use or donate once I run out. I also like their geranium-scented four-ingredient salve, which comes in a metal tin that's similarly reusable.

-Bestowed Essentials: Callee, the one-woman powerhouse behind Bestowed Essentials sent me a tin of her flora body balm, handmade in small batches in her traveling studio van (truly!). I would say that I haven't been able to stop smelling it if that didn't sound like such a cliche - it smells deeply botanical and spring-like. (Plus, it clocks in at an affordable $7).

-Dulse and Rugosa: The mother-daughter duo behind Dulse & Rugosa turns botanical ingredients into bath and beauty products made by hand at their studio in Maine. I wrote about their vegan body butter in this post last month, but as a quick recap: it's flower-strewn and luscious. I love it.

-Fillaree: Fillaree products are handmade in North Carolina with zero waste in mind While their main offering is a line of refillable home cleaning products, they also make a few beauty products, like their body butter. I haven't tried it myself, but when the owner Alyssa told me that she takes the jars back by mail for reuse (though you'll need to supply your own mailer), I was sold.

-Meow Meow Tweet: These guys make all-natural, cheerfully printed bath and beauty products in the United States (I was excited to learn recently that the cardboard tubes that some of their products come in are made right here in Chicago). Their repair balm comes in a compostable tube, uses candelilla wax in lieu of beeswax so is a great choice for strict vegan folks, and smells just the right level of medicinal.

-Seed Phytonutrients: These guys make a callus balm that's think and rich and perfect for putting on feet under socks. Plus, the metal tin is easy to throw in a bag or suitcase, and can be reused for a homemade balm or salve down the line.

Favorite balms? Favorite containers for balms? Favorite recipes? Thoughts on any of the above? I'd love to hear.

Make or Buy is a series that acknowledges that sometimes we want to make things ourselves, and sometimes we want to buy them in compostable or recyclable containers. Other zero waste gear to make or buy, here. A few of the balms shown here were sent to me to review for this post.

Cloth Napkins to Make or Buy

Where to find cloth napkins for a zero waste home | Litterless

Earlier this year, I wrote down my thoughts on making cloth napkins seem less formal and more, well, everyday. (Find those tips here). Since then, I've been going down the rabbit hole of lovely cloth napkins, and wanted to share where I've looked for additions to my current small stack.

You can find cloth napkins most places, from the most utilitarian homewares store to small shops on the internet to big-box stores like Target. When buying something I want to use and love for years to come, I try to spend some time making sure said item is something well-made, something I love, something made by a smaller business that merits my support.

As you can tell from reading this blog, I like neutral, rumply, gray-blue-brown-cream things, and most of the napkins featured below will be thus. You might like riotously flowered things or bright geometric prints: your table is almost assuredly more colorful and fun than mine, if so. Hopefully the sources below are diverse enough that you can find something that speaks to you, too.

Below, a few places to look for cloth napkins, including where I've purchased my favorites, and some notes on making your own (a few links are affiliate links): 

-Fog Linen: "Iron only if you feel compelled to iron," the care instructions say. The cloth napkins I've had the longest are by Fog Linen, which makes hard-wearing linen napkins in simple, yarn-dyed patterns. I purchased a set of these gray-blue ones with stripes when I ran across them on sale in Seattle a few years ago, but I especially love these homey, cozy checked ones.

How to go zero waste using cloth napkins | Litterless

-The Everyday Co: Handmade in Boston from deadstock fabrics, so much thought and care goes into these. Kathryn sent me a set of their 7-inch napkins to try, pictured here, and they're beautifully weighty and thick. They feel timeless, but the contrasting edges give them an indisputably modern touch. Someday I'd like to purchase another set, and will probably choose the slightly larger dinner napkins. (I love this one, and this one).

-Etsy: Right now, Etsy is full of shops selling really beautiful linen goods, like the beautiful clothing lines Linenfox and Not Perfect Linen. This extends to the home, too: Magic Linen makes linen napkins a wide range of colors (I like this gray-blue set), Not Perfect Linen has ones with subtle stripes and checks reminiscent of Fog Linen, and Lakeshore Linen makes a perfect rumply fringed version (and others) in Minneapolis. Of course, there are many other shops and fabrics available too, so if those aren't your jam, plunge into the search bar to find what is.

-Secondhand, of course: I've never had good luck finding cloth napkins at secondhand stores near me. I look for natural fibers, like cotton or linen, but almost all I ever see are either synthetic polyester napkins or napkins with some sort of garish holiday print. Maybe you'll get lucky at a local store, though! Otherwise, searching for vintage ware on Etsy, choosing a brand you love to stalk on eBay, and other traditional sources of online secondhand can bring good things to those who wait.

-Make your own: For beginner and experienced sewists alike, napkins are some of the easier projects out there because, well, they're just rectangles. Purl Soho's many handmade napkin tutorials are a good place to browse for inspiration. I've made these and can attest to their ease (if you or a friend owns a sewing machine and can sew a single straight line, you can make these). If you don't have a sewing machine, you can hand-sew the hems a la these.

Make or Buy is a series that acknowledges that sometimes we want to make things ourselves, and sometimes we want to buy them in compostable or recyclable containers. Other zero waste gear to make or buy, here.

Previously in Home: More uses for cloth at home, and a one-paragraph game changer.