Many of us are now used to bringing our reusable shopping bags to the supermarket, but we still put loose fruit and vegetables into single-use plastic bags – a lot of them: the 10 leading supermarkets produce 1.2 billion a year, and "single-use" was Collins Dictionary’ official word of the year in 2018.
But there is an alternative – reusable fruit and veg bags are better for the planet and for your produce too: you won’t end up with slimy mushrooms or limp leaves.
Reusable produce bags should be see-through – in the interests of transparency – for you and shop staff. They must be lightweight, so you pay for the contents not the container, and easy to secure, so that your tomatoes don’t tumble out.
To withstand repeated use, they must be strong and washable. To find the best on offer, we tested a range of bags by taking them to supermarkets, greengrocers and markets.
Reusable fruit and veg bags are made of organic cotton, polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic drinks bottles and polyester. Cotton, even as mesh, isn’t as see-through as synthetics, so you may need to leave bags open at check-out. PET and polyester dry faster and are pretty indestructible.
Some show the tare weight (the bag’s weight) so the cashier can deduct it from the full weight of your purchases, but it’s negligible and isn’t possible everywhere.
We’ve found other uses for these bags, too: they’re ideal for washing-machine use for delicate underwear, face-cleansing cloths and trainers, or as storage for small items like reels of thread, toys, sunglasses, leads and charges when travelling.
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Onya reusable produce bags: £11.75 for five, Earthwise Girls
Arriving in a compact cardboard box, this five-pack of white densely woven mesh bags weigh just 10g each, yet can handle up to 2kg. Each measures 30 x 25cm and the bottom has a double seam for strength and a black drawstring cord, which you’ll need to knot to secure your stuff. The bags’ rPet fabric is made from recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) plastic drinks bottles, and come with a red, purple, turquoise or green pouch to clip onto the handle of a shopping bag, belt, or keyring.
Turtle Bags medium organic cotton grocery bag: £2, Turtle Bags
Named after the leatherback turtles that visit British shores and mistake plastic bags for jellyfish, Turtle Bags was established in 2001 to raise awareness of marine plastic pollution. Their grocery bags are made of sturdy unbleached organic cotton mesh in two sizes: 25 x 30cm and 30 x 38cm, with a drawstring cord. The cotton has Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) organic certification, which means no pesticides or herbicides are used in its production, and the cotton farmers have safe working conditions and an agreed minimum wage.
Carrinet Veggio reusable fruit & veggie bags: £6.99 for five, Robert Dyas
This five-bag white mesh set, made from recycled PET bottles, contains a one-litre bag (17 x 15cm), two six-litre bags (30 x 28cm) and two nine-litre bags (30 x 28cm). The larger ones have a seam on two sides and a green drawstring cord, and have been stress-tested to 10kg – perfect for loads of onions and potatoes. The smallest has a sliding-bead closure, making it ideal for other produce. All of them have a label designed to attach price stickers to, if the supermarket operates a self-weighing system.
A Slice of Green organic cotton mesh produce bag variety pack: £7 for three, A Slice of Green
This set of three small, medium and large bags (18 x 22cm; 26 x 32cm; 34 x 38cm – the largest would easily take a couple of cabbages or cauliflowers) – are designed and distributed by a Wiltshire-based company and responsibly produced by a family-run business in Tamil Nadu, India. They are made from organic and unbleached cotton that is The Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certified. There’s no bottom seam, only side seams, which means fewer weak points, and they close with a cotton drawstring. The tare weight features on the label of each bag, too.
Eco Living reusable produce bags: £6.99 for three, Boobalou
This set includes both finely woven cotton fabric and cotton mesh bags. The cotton fabric bag measures 28 x 32cm, and the fabric is slightly sheer so you – and the sales assistant – can see what’s inside. The cotton mesh bag (30 x 38cm) is robustly constructed with side and top seams reinforced with cotton tape, and a label with the tare weight. The bag designed for bread is 28 x 38cm and is made of thicker cotton to keep that crust crisp, but there’s no reason why you couldn’t fill it with fresh produce.
Legooms reuseable vegetable and produce bags: £11.95 for six, Postera
With a name based on the French for vegetables (legumes), these were the first reusable produce bags to be made from recycled bottles. The set of six comes in a neat green pouch and contains two each of three sizes: 20 x 30cm; 30 x 35cm and 30 x 43cm. Each has a label for attaching a weigh-it-yourself price sticker, and the drawstrings are colour-coded in brown, yellow and green from largest to smallest. The tare weight also appears on the label.
Elephant Box cotton mesh produce bags: £13 for three, Elephant Box
The company slogan neatly sums it up: "choose to reuse and be part of the solution". Strong overlocked seams mean that the small bag (16 x 22cm) will take 750g tomatoes or five onions; the medium (23 x 28cm) can handle 2kg of onions or apples and the large (30 x 36cm) will swallow 4kg of spuds. The tare weight is printed on the packaging, although not on the bag itself. Washing before use is recommended because of shrinkage, but we’d be happy to take our chances. The suppliers are based in India and have admirable ethical values and working conditions for their employees.
Dexam reusable drawstring fruit and vegetable bags: £8.50 for five, Dexam
In your pack of five bags from Dexam, you'll recieve two large bags (33 x 40cm), two medium (30x28cm) and one small (17x15cm), into which they all fit. All have a label for affixing a price sticker. We found these easiest to discern the contents – because they’re made from polyester – which may be an issue if you’re concerned about fibre-shedding during the washing process. We reckon you’re not likely to wash these that often, not least because washing by hand is recommended, and on the environmental upside, you’ll be using them for a long time.
Atlas & Ortus organic cotton mesh bag: Small £3, medium £4, large £5, Atlas & Ortus
This company was founded in 2018 by two sisters with a belief that we could all do more to reduce single-use plastics, and this takes the prize for minimal packaging: just a narrow brown paper band printed with washing instructions (30C, leave to air dry), their use: for fruit and vegetables or washing reusable face wipes, and the material it’s made of: GOTS organic cotton. The scale of the mesh is the smallest we tested, and the bag seams are taped for strength. The large size is the biggest we found, at 43 x 32cm, and the medium (26 x 36.5cm) and small (21 x 26cm) are generously proportioned, too.
Purifyou organic cotton produce bags: £21.67 for nine, Amazon
Packaged in a cardboard drum that you’ll have no problem repurposing, this set of no fewer than nine bags should meet the needs of even the most prodigious plant-based eater, comprising two small bags (30 x 20cm), five medium (30 x 35cm) and two large (30 x 43cm). All have double-stitched seams for strength, and a nifty metal toggle fastening on the drawstring cord, plus the tare weight on the colour-coded-according-to-size labels.
The verdict: Reusable produce bags
For that handy little clip-on storage pouch and for taking plastic bottles out of the eco-cycle, we say "good on ya" to Onya. If you’re on a budget, Carrinet Veggio’s five bags for £6.99 is also great value.