I have a handful of reusable bags, but my most cherished is my large canvas tote bag.
It’s a little bulky by some standards, with its thick cotton construction, but it works perfectly for me. I can carry heavy things, sharp things, messy things and this bag doesn’t quit. A wash with the towels now and again keeps it looking tidy, though I wouldn’t go as far as saying it’s a looker.
Now cotton has an extremely pretty poor supply chain, it’s true. Replacing all the plastic bags in the world with canvas 1:1 would be a poor solution. But that wouldn’t actually happen. I’ve used my canvas bag at least once a day, often twice a day for the past five years. That works out to around 2700 uses. Ergo, I have never thrown away my canvas bag.
The most important feature of my reusable bag is that it enables me to refuse single use plastics bags while shopping.
A single use plastic bag and a durable reusable bag are barely even in the same category.
They have the same shape, and when reduced to a single transaction, may appear to accomplish the same thing (carrying goods) but after a few years of re-using my canvas bag, I realize they are not the same thing.
A single use disposable plastic bag is more akin to a fast food wrapper. Designed to be discarded.
Sure, single use plastic bags may be convenient on a basic, mindless level. But how sad that even though our society uses so many of them every day, they are essentially valueless. No one’s life is improved by the acquisition of yet another flimsy, noisy, soon-to-be-trash plastic bag.
They transition far too easily from bag to trash bin, or worse, beach. There is no consistent or ideal way to recycle them, and their flimsiness excuses them from any real expectation of reuse.
Plastic bags are also this perverse combination of fragility and indestructibility – only, they are so in the opposite way we actually need them to be. We’ve all felt the uneasiness of carrying a plastic bag that strains against its contents, threatening to bottom out. And when the time comes that we wish they would just go away and stop billowing out of our cupboards, they somehow inevitably escape and tumbleweed toward the waterways, for eternity, essentially.
My canvas reusable bag, on the other hand, is like a well-seasoned cast iron pan. I’m going to have it for a long time. I cherish it. I almost always carry it with me. It is a tool that helps me live a better life. It is invaluable. I am not trying to throw it away all the time.
There really is no perfect bag.
I’m open to the invention of a miraculous material that is lightweight, strong, and can be used once and responsibly discarded, with minimal environmental impact during resource harvesting, production and disposal, but I’m not holding my breath. Plastic isn’t it and neither is paper. Neither is bio plastic, for that matter.
So in the meantime, imperfect as it is, my cotton canvas bag is the best bag for me. I’ll use it over and over and over, and revel in its quiet strength.
If you’re using a bag that you don’t feel the need to throw away all the time, that’s really – if not a perfect solution – at least a great start. The key thing is to use a bag that you’d rather keep than toss.