As I lived mine childhood in Soviet Union that thankfully is long gone, there are quite a few products that now days appear again taking new shapes and forms. Reusable mesh produce bags I firsts saw used by some elderly lady who bought a lonely loaf of bread in the grocery store. These days I was searching amazon for sustainable products and found cotton mesh bags, I also noticed they are gaining popularity. Our team made research on these bags and we would like to share some findings in this article.
The offense of plastic
Since the world war two the production of plastic and polymer products started its slow ascend into our daily lives and now has reached unprecedented height. 322 million tons of polymers (excluding fiber) were produced in year 2015. The speed is impressive: 1977 – 50 million tons, 1989 – 100 million tons (24 years to double), 2002 – 200 million tons (11 years to double), 2009 – 250 million tons, 2015 – 322 million tons. Out of this amount, depending on the region, packaging consumes 35-45% of plastic such as beverage bottles and textile fibers.
In year 2017 UK produced 11 million tons of plastic waste, only two-thirds of it were recycled. However according to National Audit Office, 50% of Uk’s recyclable waste travels oversees, and likely ends up in the landfill or ocean waters.
Reusable grocery bags – can they help?
In order to reduce such an amount of plastic waste, grocery bags will do little help. Political decisions are much appreciated here. However, every one of us can participate and sustainable lifestyle is only getting its hold in the western world, which is the major producer of plastic waste.
Let’s make a simple calculation about number of plastic bags we use daily. It depends on our purchasing patterns, yes, but Let’s say we buy groceries 2-3 times a week, and we need the bags to take our goods to the car or straight to the home. 1-4 bags is medium number of bags per purchase (my personal estimate). Multiply by 3 (times a week), and we get approximately 9-10 bags a week, which gives us 3650 bags a year per person.
So now Let’s use average life span of reusable produce mesh bag which is approximately a nine months up to a year (depending how you use), and we can exchange 3650 with 4 bags. We just need to make a decision and put the cotton mesh bags in the car for next shopping.
What to look for when buying cotton bags
There is an option to make bags yourselves. However, I am going to discuss purchasing option, as there is so many bags on the market.
Fabric – organic cotton, 100% natural cotton (GOTS certified), reusable plastic mesh. All three options been good for reducing waste, yes even reusable plastic mesh. We applaud companies that take effort and recycle plastic as well as customers who take first steps and choose this product. The benefit of plastic mesh products is longevity and groceries can be washed in the bag. Me personal choice is 100% cotton mesh bags, that are biodegradable and have been good on touch. Organic cotton is bit more expensive and is super Eco choice (organic cotton productions worldwide steadily declines since 2009).
Be aware that after first washing (please not hot water and dryer) bags might shrink up to 5%. Some bags have scent or even smell, that might be hindrance for using bag in the future. I agree, who wants to walk with stinky one. However, most of the bags have nice cotton scent.
The quality and sturdiness of cotton depends on staple length and manufacturers to produce mesh bags are using somewhat low quality cotton. Even sturdy cotton bags should feel soft if they are produced from high quality cotton. I definitely understand producers who choose to use less quality cotton fabric that is intended for bags for high quality fabric that goes for shirts or blouses.
Tare weight tags – If you choose bags for groceries, please check if they have tare weight tags sewn on them. As the bag weights (depending on the size), you don’t want to be paying for your groceries additional fee as cashier weights them. Some bags have grams and ounces on the labels, check if the pounds are also on the tags, so it easier for store employees to service you.
Please also make sure that weights are correct once you buy the bags or you will bet in trouble every time with cashiers in the stores.
Drawstrings and beads – there are drawstrings from one side of the bag as well as from both sides of the bag. Not only that, you can have single drawstring in the bag (which usually comes with a plastic or metal bead), or double drawstring in the bag that serves for better closure of the bag. Drawstrings come in multiple colors, the way, as manufacturer chooses to attract customers. Depending on the bag, drawstrings are different sizes, starting 0,3 cm, 0,5 cm, 0,7 cm and even 1 cm thick.
If you choose a bag with one side drawstring, it will come with metal or plastic bead, as a function to close the bag. Be aware that metal beads are troublesome in washing machine when the bags will be washed. Plastic drawstring is very interesting choice for a bag that is used for reducing plastic. Plastic bead life span is quite short. I suggest to use strings with no drawstring. Those are bags with good quality string that goes out from both sides. Double string is perfect to keep bag close.
Miscellaneous – some bags have top inch of the bag in different color, which is nice touch if you need to sort your groceries. Other bags have brand logos or slogans on them to attract customers. The size of the bags differs, starting from small 8×10 inch bags, finishing with XL bags 30×30 inches. Mesh size depends on the size of the bag, but mostly they are 0,25×0,25 inches (0,6 cm 0,6 cm)
Improvement suggestions and add-ons – customers note that some bag material is unraveling very fast. Customers also say that for some bags it is hard to see through the mesh.
Using mesh bags – be creative
Grocery shopping – Use bags for grocery shopping and save the plastic bags for others. It is economical in the long run and safer for planet. Sustainable living.
Storing – you can store groceries home buy not taking them out of the bag. Some goes in fridge, cotton is breathable and foods stay fresh longer, other go into cabinets or cellars. Dry food, potatoes, cucumbers, carrots, apples, salads, etc. It is difficult to find a vegetable of fruit that can’t go into mesh bag. Bread and other baked food is easily stored into mesh bags as well (though muslin bags are more preferable for this). You can even store mushrooms in the bag and let them dry out.
Household – for toys, for shoes, golf balls, travel bag for socks or underwear, as a laundry bag and you can start to get creative, for instance use mesh as filter, or place to hang soap in the shower so it does not get lost in the water. When bags re used and ready to composting, before that use them as a scrub for cleaning.
Cotton mesh – biodegradable and Eco friendly
It takes cotton 5-6 months to biodegrade. I suggest to compost it in the garden, cut it into pieces and shovel under the turf. Compering to plastic that depending on the substance takes 15-1000 years to break down. It is estimated that 1 million birds, 100 000 turtles and numerous other sea creatures die annually from ingesting plastic. They confuse plastic particles, bags, for edible sea life.
It is good choice to start with
I suggest go with reusable mesh bags for everyone that has not used them before. It is first step and acknowledgement of the fact that plastic waste is a noticeable problem for us and for our planet. Thank you for participating.