A Guide to Reusable Shopping Bags

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Single-use plastic bags are slowly becoming a thing of the past for many Aussies and there are a number of reasons why. Apart from the government push to ban plastic bags, it’s a sustainable step that families are making for a better future. So what alternatives are there? Read on as we list a number of brands as well as what you need to know about reusable shopping bags.

Reusable Shopping Bag Brands in Australia

Apart from the supermarket label bags, what brands are available in Australia? We’ve compiled a list of 10 brands that have come around in this space:

  • Apple Green Duck
  • Avanti
  • Biome
  • Bundle
  • Flip & Tumble
  • Green Essentials
  • Karlstert
  • Kmart
  • LOQI
  • Onya

There are also a number of websites that sell various brands all in one spot, including Flora & Fauna, Hello Green, The Clean Collective and Green Bag Co Australia who typically sell in bulk.

Let’s dive in to a few of these brands to see what’s on offer and what prices you can expect to pay, before we look at what you’ll need to know about the type of materials used and the maintenance required for these bags.

Apple Green Duck

Apple Green Duck offers calico, jute, cotton and nylon reusable bags. It aims to bring a range of funky reusable shopping bags that are affordable yet fashionable. There are a number of vibrant colours and bold graphic prints to choose from.

Prices range from $5.95 for its foldable nylon bags and go up to $49.95 for its natural jute shopping bags with leather handles. Its jute bag is aimed to be an every day bag, as well as a reusable bag with a total size of 46cm by 40cm. Other reusable bags from Apple Green Duck include cotton screen printed bags, with prices between $7.50 and $9.95.

Biome

Biome is an Australian company selling its own branded tote bags, as well as other brands including Loqi and Onya on their website. Its range is stated to be made from organic cotton canvas with different bag styles available including mesh bags, solid weave bags and bread bags.

Its set of five is available for $24.95, which includes two small mesh bags, one medium solid weave and two extra-large solid weave bags for heavy goods up to 2kg. Its individual cotton bread bag sits at $5.95 while its cotton mesh produce bags are the cheapest in the range at $4.95. The full range is stated to be machine washable with its organic cotton being sourced from India.

Flip & Tumble

Flip & Tumble originated from the Unites States but is now also in Australia. It offers a range of reusable shopping bags, as well as produce bags, compactable bags and travel bags. There are also a number of colours on offer and all are machine washable.

Its Ultimate Reusable Bags are priced at $24.95 and are made from ripstop nylon, with a 15kg weight capacity. There are also drawstring backpack options available at $44.90 in the same material, but can carry up to 9kg. Both of these designs are foldable and transforms from a bag to a ball for easy storage.

Kmart

The cheap and cheerful department store has also got behind the single-use plastic bag ban and offers a few reusable bag options. Its range is stated to be made from 100% recycled water bottles with all being foldable for convenience. There are three sizing options – large, medium and small – with a number of funky designs. Its largest shopping bag is 51cm x 51cm x 20cm.

Another type of reusable bag that Kmart offers is made from Polypropylene (PP) non-woven material with a top carry handle and caddy loop. There are two colour options including green/white with spots or grey/white with a weave pattern. Prices sit from $1 to $3 across the full range.

Onya

Onya specialises in Australian designed reusable bags, bread bags and more. Its reusable shopping bags are stated to be made from RPET material, which is recycled plastic drink bottles. Features include a built-in shoulder strap and caddy loops for convenience. You’ll also find a small pocket at the front of the bag to hold your shopping list or any other small items. It’s stated to hold several kilos with a width and length of 47cm by 58cm respectively for the large bag and 37cm by 46cm for the small bag.

Onya’s reusable tote bags (pictured) have a slightly different design, with each bag being able to carry up to 10 kilos. It has a double lined base and extra wide square gusset to help in transporting bulk foods. It’s made from up to 10 recycled plastic drink bottles (RPET) and comes with a carry pouch, so it can easily be folded and stored away. Both options have a 12-month manufacturers warranty. Stockists include Flora & Fauna, Hello Green as well as Biome with prices ranging between $13.95 and $17.95 depending on the size.

What to consider when buying a reusable shopping bag

While reusable bags are a good alternative to single-use bags, not all reusable bags are made equal. Depending on the material used to make a bag, it can have a different impact on the environment, in particular if its biodegradable or not. According to a British life-cycle assessment of the comparative energy costs of different bag materials, you’ll need to reuse a heavy-duty bag at least four times to recoup the extra energy needed to make it.

Degradable vs Biodegradable

Degradable bags often get mistaken for biodegradable. However, the difference between the two is that biodegradable bags are generally made of corn starch or other plant material and in turn, break down or compost into carbon dioxide, methane, biomass and water. These bags meet the Australian Standard for biodegradability while degradable bags simply break down into small pieces.

Types of reusable shopping bags

Fabric Reusable Bags

  • Cotton & Canvas: although traditionally made from hemp, canvas bags are also now produced from linen or cotton. According to the British Environment Agency, cotton bags need to be used approximately 131 times before they break even with single-use, high-density polyethylene (HDPE) bags due to the amount of water that is used to make them. The advantage of cotton bags is that they’re washable and biodegradable, so you can use it many times before throwing it into a compost bin at the end of its life.
  • Calico: is a cotton fibre that is unbleached and not fully processed, which makes it kinder to the planet than traditional cotton. As it’s essentially a cotton bag, it’s very resource intensive and in turn has a high carbon footprint. Calico bags are strong and durable but can also shrink. It also requires pesticide use if not organically grown.
  • Hemp: is stronger than cotton and is one of the oldest farmed crops. According to Hemp Foods Australia, the advantage of hemp is that the usable fibre is sourced from the stem of the plant and is resistant to most pests, requiring little if any pesticide. It’s also strong, lightweight and biodegradable. However, it’s typically not grown in Australia.
  • Jute: is a heavy-duty material not dependent on pesticides and has the seal of approval from Clean Up Australia. It’s the second-most abundant commercially grown fibre in the world after cotton and is commonly grown in Bangladesh and India. While this might mean additional cost in transporting jute to Australia, the crop is carbon neutral.

Reusable Plastic Bags

  • Recycled PET/Polyester: looks and feels like fabric but is made from plastic. While it’s durable and eco-friendly, the downfall is that it’s not typically machine washable and sourced off-shore.
  • Polypropylene: is a type of plastic and is typically the material used for the “green bags” that have been available in supermarkets now for a number of years. The heavy-duty, non-woven polypropylene bags are much thicker and more robust than the 15-cent reusable variety. It’s a relatively low-energy intensive product to make, plus it’s relatively efficient in terms of water use and is strong enough to be used for years. However, it can break down into microplastics if it finds its way into the environment and cause the same issues as the lightweight bags.
  • Nylon: can be rolled into a small ball for easy storage, it’s lightweight and water resistant, however is not recyclable.

Looking after your tote bag

It’s important to look after the bags you buy as these can provide a good breeding ground for bacteria, according to the Australian Institute of Food Safety. Small numbers of bacteria from exposed food in the bag can start to reproduce and multiply, in particular if the bag is stored in damp conditions (e.g. under the kitchen sink). This can be transferred onto new food items purchased on the next shopping trip.

The Australia Food Safety recommends to wash reusable bags often, and to use different bags for different types of food, so you might like to have a few different colour options available to help you keep track. It also notes to not keep food in the bags for too long as well as store bags in a suitable place and clean surfaces where the bags are placed.

Are tote bags worth the money?

While you could be spending up to $50 on one reusable bag, keep in mind that you’ll use it over and over again. That’s not to say you have to buy the most expensive one as there are number of cheaper alternatives out there, but you’re likely to be paying more for a biodegradable option. There are also bags that can be rolled up to fit inside your bag or glove box as well as machine-friendly options for easy maintenance such as from LOQI and Onya.

However, you might like to keep in mind the material used to make the bag, as a “reusable” bag could be just as detrimental to the environment as a single-use bag. This is because heavy-duty bags can take longer to break down. Nevertheless, switching to reusable bags is a step to help reduce waste.

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