Remember the days when we’d do our weekly food shop and use new plastic bags? Every. Single. Time. What were we thinking?
For many of us, these bags were then put into a cupboard each week to be "reused" as bin bags, or for something else and thrown away. Across the world we’d use up to 5 trillion of them – per year. There was little thought about the life (or afterlife) of these plastic bags. Used on average for around 12 minutes, they then take more than 500 years to decompose, according to the Centre for Biological Diversity.
However, they never fully disappear – this type of plastic actually turns into microplastics, which are even worse as they’re able to infiltrate everything from the depths of the ocean to the flesh of fish.
Terrifying as it is, we are making small steps. Back in 2015, the UK government brought in the 5p charge for plastic bags in supermarkets and high street shops. The idea was that people wouldn’t want to add an extra few pennies to their weekly shops. It did, in fact, deter shoppers and encouraged them to bring their own reusable bags.
Since the scheme started, it’s estimated 15 billion plastic bags have been removed from circulation. Since the 5p charge was brought in, the major supermarkets saw an 86 per cent decrease in plastic bag use. Now the charge is due to be doubled to 10p.
Still, there’s little more annoying than forgetting your favourite reusable shopper while on your way to the supermarket, whether that’s for food or anything else.
So we’ve rounded up a variety of reusables, from hessian bags to those made from recycled plastic bottles, to ensure you never forget one again. In our testing, we were looking for durability, size, how easy they were to use and pack away, and – where applicable – design and further eco credentials.
Kind London papaya reusable shopping bag
Size: W 38cm x H 40cm
Folds down to: 14cm x 15cm x 1cm
Made from six plastic bottles that would have otherwise ended up in the ocean, Kind also donates 10 per cent of the profits towards the Just One Ocean charity which raises awareness of plastic pollution, overfishing and habitat destruction. The brand’s mission is to replace some of the 1 trillion (yes, you read that correctly) single use plastic bags.
Our favourite thing about this bag is not only it’s great design, but it’s size. It’s huge and can hold two or three times your usual plastic shopping bag and around 20kg. The arms are much longer so it can easily be slung over your shoulders too. It folds down into a little pouch, is waterproof, weighs just 50g and is also 100 per cent recyclable. An absolute game changer for everything from your weekly shop to carting books and lunch around. We never leave home without it now.
Herd medium tote bag
- Size: H 40cm x W 60cm
- Instantly recognisable for it’s Rio-inspired designs, thanks to where the brand’s designer is based, these bags are bright, bold, fun and most importantly – so useful. We love the idea behind the brand name, “for those who herd”, ie parents packing everything for everyone else – and likely being lumbered with carrying it too. They’re also wipe clean, which is a dream for anyone with kids where spills are often likely.
- Made from 100 per cent recycled materials, it’s durable and spacious too . The medium size can fit a lot of food in it, or plenty of things like rugs, jumpers, picnic, beach kit etc. But don’t be worried you’ll lose your keys or phone in this Poppins-style holdall – there’s a decent sized zipper inner pocket for all your valuables. To carry, there’s two cotton wide strap handles, one to hold in your hand and a longer set to throw over your shoulder too. Super simple and well thought out and we’re obsessed with the cool print. With each purchase of an Eye print bag, the brand funds 1kg of ocean clean up, so when you buy you’ll receive a link to track the progress of it too.
Baggu standard reusable shopper
Size: H 65cm x W 40cm x D 15cm
Folds down to: 13cm x 13cm
One of the big names in packaway reusable bags is the aptly named Baggu. The American brand, which came to life in 2007 to fill the space of stylish reusable shoppers. This is the standard size, its best seller, and the brand also includes other sizes such as “big” or “baby”, and even a wine shaped bag which makes us love Baggu even more. The standard is based on a traditional plastic shopping bag in design, but is made from ripstop nylon, 40 per cent of which is made from recycled materials.
It’s lightweight and durable and folds away into its own little cute pouch making it slim and easy to slip into small handbags or trouser/ coat pockets, meaning there’s never an excuse not to have one! There’s loads of colourways, but who can resist this one? The only issue we have with it, is sometimes we misplace the pouch as it’s not attached.
Ace & Price mini tote
- Size: W 40cm x H 25cm
- Love a laundry bag? But want to make it fashun? This is the brand for you. Making cool shopping totes is Ace & Prince, headed up by former model, Heidi Murray, and stylist Chloe Forde. Think clashing bright stripes made from woven fabric and natural dye.
- We love the mini, with its long straps and long zip across the top. It's great for slinging over your shoulder if you're nipping to the shops for a few things, or out shopping for the day. There's also string bags available too, as well as wallets, joggers, scrunchies and cushion covers.
Rex London world map jumbo storage bag
Size: L 55cm x H 48cm x W 28cm
Whether you’re moving, storing your winter knitwear or cushions for your garden furniture, or hiding presents from the kids, these bags are incredibly useful. They fold up into a square about the size of your hand and take up barely any room when not in use. Even when you are using them, they’re fairly easy to store underneath beds thanks to its flexible material.
The short handles make them easy to carry, just don’t overfill them with heavy things if you’re moving house. We also like the cute print which makes them great for kids bedrooms and not worrying about having to hide them. It’s made from recycled plastic bottles and has a long zip across the top too.
Harrods foodhall shopper, pack of 2
Size: H 40cm x W 40cm x D 15cm
This was given to us as a gift, and it's one of the best sized reusable sturdy shoppers we've used. We mostly use it for packing up things in the car when going on long journeys, or trips away as it just fits so much in it, from food to bottles, or presents. It's nice and tall, with suede short handles so it's easy to carry if you are walking out and about with it. You can fit a surprising amount in it, and we're sure it will last years. This comes as a pack of two, and we're sure you'll find a use for both, or give the other as a gift. It will certainly be used a lot.
Accessorize packable shopper bag
Size: L 43cm x W 45cm
Folds down to: 22cm x 16cm
Another foldaway shopper, this one is a little chunkier and bigger than the Kind (£10, Amazon.co.uk) or Baggu (£15, Libertylondon.co.uk) versions, and when using it it’s more like a nylon version of a larger book bag. It has a large front pocket, a main compartment with a zip top and a smaller internal pocket inside with a popper over the top to keep smaller bits like phones and wallets in one place. It has wide, durable handles to put over your shoulders. It’s nice and easy to use, but a little harder to get back into the pouch as it’s not attached and requires being neatly folded up.
Wallace Cotton reusable string bag
Size: H 30cm x W 34cm
Folds down to: 18cm x 18cm
String bags were the unlikely fashion resurgence of a few years ago. From the Australian interiors and bedroom brand, this little bag is made from unbleached, recyclable and reusable natural cotton and when not in use, it can be stuffed into its little carry bag that's attached.
It's not huge, so you won't fit bottles or large items in, but it's great if you're nipping to the shop for a few little bits. The string weave is also not huge, so it means things won't slip through the wave holes too. There's also a little pocket inside for keys and your phone too.
The verdict: Reusable bags
For its incredible size, strength, donation to charities and very cool designs, the Kind bag takes the top spot for us. It’s a great buy that is infinitely useful. For something that more resembles a handbag but still folds away nicely when not in use, we love the Ace & Prince mini tote for its great looks. If you’re moving or storing clothes or bedding, the Rex London jumbo tote will be reused time and time again.
For discounts on other Plastic Free July essentials, try the links below:
From trainers to dog poo bags, these are the Indybest team’s favourite sustainable buys
IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.