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Best Reusable Shopping Bags For You and The Environment – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Updated: May 29, 2023

We all know enough about damaging effects of single—use plastics, including single—use plastic bags. And with New York City and many other cities introducing new policies that ban plastic straws, or now charge a fee for single—use bags, it is about time that we all jump on the reusable bag train. But surprisingly, finding a reusable bag that is right for you and for the environment is not a simple task. Hence, LivingPUR went hunting for the best reusable, foldable shopping bags that are also durable, affordable, and pretty. And we have our winners!

Plastic bag in the ocean

My all—time favorite use of single—use plastic bag is in 1999 American Beauty movie scene, where Ricky and Jane are watching hauntingly simple and beautiful video of a plastic bag “dancing" in the wind. But great movies and art pieces aside, issues of single—use plastic, including bags, have been heavily documented and researched. They are piling up in landfills, contaminating the oceans, harming fish and birds who are known to ingest them and furthermore introduce them into the food chain. They linger in the environment for decades and they are infamously challenging to recycle. In fact, most curbside recycling plants do not even accept or recycle plastic bags. So as a consumer you technically do more harm than good when you throw plastic bag into a recycling bin. Your only option is to take plastic bags to specific locations that participate in plastic bag recycling programs.


Surprisingly, benefits of replacing single—use plastic bag with single—use paper bag are not that straightforward, as paper bags actually have higher carbon footprint than single-use plastic bags. This is due to more energy required to produce and transport paper bags. Hence, New York City’s recent policy is charging a fee for all types of single—use bags, and not just plastic. I know what you are thinking: c’mon, paper bags cannot be as bad! Even though they have not—so—favorable impact on global warming, they are readily biodegradable, hence they do not pollute and harm the environment in the ways plastic bags do. That is true. But, if we are doing things, let’s do them right! So to really make a difference, the choice is clear — you should use reusable bags.

But which one? That question isn’t as easy to answer, as you might think. Consumers who want to be environment friendly and avoid toxic chemicals would typically opt for natural materials, like cotton. Makes sense. But data shows that cotton requires huge amounts of water and pesticides to grow (exception is organic cotton, although the water issue still stands). And unlike paper, cotton is not typically or easily recycled. So if not cotton, then what? Based on a study done by Australian state government agency in 2007, the best option to replace single—use plastic bags are actually reusable bags made from recycled plastic. Who knew!


Ok, so now let’s take a dive into the world of reusable bags to find the best ones. To do that we choose the following criteria for our bags:

  • Weight limit: Bag needs to be sturdy to be long—lasting, so weight capacity is important

  • Materials: As mentioned above, the best replacement are bags made out of recycled materials. The higher the recycled content, the better.

  • Foldable: Ease of use is a must, so bag should be foldable, compact in design, and portable. If my reusable bag cannot fit into my purse or a pocket, I will be much less likely to have it on me when I need it.

  • Washability: Hygiene first! Bag must be washable, as bacterial / viral contamination with repeated use is a legitimate concern and especially in COVID—19 times.

And on the nice—to—have list we are looking for:

  • Look pretty: If I will carry this bag with me everywhere, I want it to have interesting design or fun colors and patterns

  • Doing good: We like companies that are making a positive impact in the world, whether it is ethical manufacturing practices, giving back to a specific cause, etc.

And now onto our top 3 choices (drum roll, please)!


  • Weight limit: 20 lbs

  • Material: Tote fabric is made with 100% recycled material from single use plastic water bottles. Impressive! Handle is made from thermoplastic polymer (TPE), which can be recycled and turned into 3D printing filament.

  • Foldable: Yes! When folded this tote looks pretty cool and unique, thanks to the original design by Karim Rashid.

  • Cleaning: As per company’s recommendation, the bag can be wiped clean with water. However, this is not good enough for thorough cleaning, so I sometimes hand—wash mine and wipe the handle clean (however, do not put this tote in washing machine).

  • Do good: For every purchased Carri Tote, Hip company will fund removal of 7 single—use cups from local waterways to prevent them from going into the oceans. I say that’s a great bonus!

  • Look: This tote wins for me for the most interesting design and also some pretty colors. If you care about style, be sure your bag will get noticed.

  • Price: $15

  • Dimensions: 16.9" x 17.7"

  • Downside: My only minor pet—peeve with Carry Tote is that I cannot carry it over my shoulder, which I personally prefer. This bag is also not huge, so you will need a few for a big trip to a grocery store. But this company does a great job with materials and sustainability, hence it’s on top of our list.

Carri Tote by Hip, designed by Karim Rashid

  • Weight limit: up to 50 lbs Pretty impressive and definitely way more than I can ever carry.

  • Material: Baggu is made from ripstop nylon with 40% recycled content (recycled from pre-consumer waste, like scrap material from landfill) and it also uses environmentally responsible dyes.

  • Foldable: Yes! The bag is easily foldable into a tiny square that can fit anywhere.

  • Cleaning: Yes! Machine washable, which is great.

  • Look: Baggu comes in many different colors and fun patterns, which I love. It also has almost 1,400 excellent reviews on Amazon.

  • Do good: According to the company’s website, Baggu is ethically manufactured in China. Baggu also collects old bags and recycles, repurposes, or reuses them, which is admirable.

  • Price: $12

  • Dimensions: Baggu comes in three sizes: Standard (25 ½" × 15 ½" × 6”), Baby (18” × 10" × 4”) & Big Baggu (33” × 18" × 9”) so there is a bag for everyone.

  • Downside: The only issue with Baggu is that it uses materials with 40% of recycled content and ideally we like to see more than that. However, Baggu fits all other criteria and the company does make efforts in ethical manufacturing etc, hence, it’s on our top 3 list.

  • Weight limit: up to 50 lbs Same as Baggu, this is an impressive weight limit

  • Material: Ripstop polyester (not recycled)

  • Foldable: Yes! The bag is easily foldable into a tiny square that can fit anywhere.

  • Cleaning: Yes! Machine washable, which is great.

  • Look: BeeGreen comes in some fun colors, nothing too exciting but still cute. It also has over 4,400 excellent reviews on Amazon.

  • Do good: According to the company's website, the bags are ethically manufactured in China.

  • Price: BeeGreen is the most budget—friendly option, costing $14 for set of 5 bags.

  • Dimensions: 14.2” W x 17.7” H x 4.7” D

  • Downside: My biggest issue is that this bag is not made with any recyclable materials, which is disappointing. However, since finding another, more affordable reusable bag that fits all our criteria was very difficult, BeeGreen made the top 3 cut.

And after you select your favorite reusable tote and start proudly toting it around, don’t forget that it is not just the bag, but also what you put in it in a grocery store that matters even more. As David Tyler, a professor of chemistry at the University of Oregon, who has examined the research on the environmental impact of bag use, says:

“Eat one less meat dish a week — that’s what will have a real impact on the environment”.

On that note, I recommend you read LivingPUR blog post on issues of meat eating and meat industry for more info on the topic.

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