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.
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.
-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.
Other favorite produce bags to make or buy? What are you using these days?
(Photos by Anna Zajac for Litterless).