The Economics of the Reusable Bag

I’m always wondering why people don’t bring reusable bags to the store.  For me, reducing the use of plastic is very important and I see it as the “right” thing to do.  I do realize that not everyone sees the world through those same green glasses and that has gotten me thinking….

The other day I had some errands to run – Target and grocery shopping at Kroger. It was late afternoon and both stores were busy. While I know that Michigan is behind other parts of the country in bringing your own bags to the store, I was amazed that I was the ONLY one that I saw in both stores with my own bag. This got me thinking – why??!!!

I came up with two primary reasons – expense to invest in the reusable bags and the convenience of having to remember to bring the bags. Here are my thoughts on those barriers.

First, the expense. I searched a number of websites and found a large price range for bags – better quality / innovative design, higher price. I have several of the higher price / higher quality bags and I do really like them. For the long haul, I would recommend investing in bags that are a bit more expensive.  Check out some of the awesome finds from the EcoEtsy team here!

However, for those on a tight budget, the less expensive counterparts can work just fine for regular grocery shopping. I’ve found less expensive bags priced at about $1.50 each. If you need 10 bags for your shopping, that is an up front investment of $15.00. Now, here in Michigan, Target refunds $0.05/bag and Kroger refunds $0.10/bag. So, here’s the math….if you use 10 bags per week at Kroger and 3 bags per month at Target, in one year you will get back $53.80. Even in the year where you make the investment  of buying the bags you will MAKE $38.80. The stores will pay you for the use of your bags! To me, this is a no brainer.

OK, on to the “less convenient” issue. I’ve been bringing my bags to the store for nearly three years now and, while it took a month or two for me to readjust my habits, I can say it is rare for me to forget them. You just need to establish a routine that works for you. One easy strategy is to make sure you always put the bags back in your trunk after you unload the groceries. That way, you don’t accidentally forget them at home. Remembering to take them into the store is a bit tougher, but after a few times you get used to that as well.

In addition to making sense for both the environment and my finances, I like the added benefits that the bags hold more than paper/plastic bags and they can be slung over my shoulder. This allows me to make less trips to the car when I’m unloading.

So, if you don’t already take your own bags, give it a try…it’s not that hard!

The unique reusable bag shown in this post is from the EcoEtsy shop of FashionGreenTBags.

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  1. A good article that talks about the economics of reusable bags.

  2. Thank you for this article. It took me longer than you to remember to bring the bags, but it’s a habit now, and I wouldn’t go back for anything. Well done!

  3. I thought that peer pressure was making people bring their own bags now! Maybe in CA, where we’re not shy to send dirty looks to the un-green ones.

    I routinely see reusable bags for sale at a multitude of checkouts, from Trader Joe’s to TJ Maxx, usually in the 99 cents range. Pretty much all supermarkets give you some kind of incentive, either as 5 cents back to your bill, or as donation to a charity, or as “points” for future discount coupons.

  4. Hey Lori! What a great post! I’m a bring your own bag kinda girl and have been for close to two years; before that I would do paper. I keep about bags in my trunk and another handful of bags hanging on the coat hooks by my door so I can grab on the run as I leave. I not only use them at the grocers, I use them when shopping in general (i.e. clothes shopping, drugstores, etc.). My grocers pay me $0.05 per bag when I use my own. CVS has a green tag program for every 4 green swipes I get a coupon on my receipt (love coupons).

    I’ve been incentivized to use my bags.

    If you’re still on the fence check out the 25 reasons to use reusable bags

  5. Quebec City sounds like the Oregon I know. Everyone here has reusable bags. As a matter of fact I have more cloth bags than I can use (they get passed around), so it dawned on me after reading this article that I am going to start bringing them to stores with me and offering them to the person in line in front of me who doesn’t have a bag.

  6. Forgetting the bags seems to be the biggest excuse I hear too. I keep bags in three places – in the trunk of the car, at the door where I leave to go out shopping and I always keep a lightweight ripstop nylon folding one in my purse together with all my Kootsac bulk food and produce bags.
    The other thing I’ve done to get into the habit is this: I live in a village so I walk to do most of my shopping. If I forgot to bring a bag with me I only buy what I can carry. If I forget a bulk or produce bag I just don’t buy it. The annoyance of going home without it or having to carry loads of stuff without a bag have trained me to never forget anymore.
    I would suggest trying something that works for you so that you create a consequence for not remembering your bags. Sounds a bit silly but it really works. A shrug and “Oops, I forgot” just don’t help to break bad habits – we have to be proactive. Just pretend that throwaway bags don’t exist.

    On cost – the price for not doing the right thing will be higher than we can imagine for future generations.

  7. I love my bags! I found several at the local dollar store and the rest are thrift store and yard sale finds. Only one local supermarket gives me credit for using them, but I am noticing more shopping bags in use in my area.

  8. I always say you “MAKE” money when you bring your own bag. It’s a Win Win proposition! Let’s hope posts like this that spells out the math will make people be more aware! Thanks Lori!

  9. I find it really interesting to see how things work in other places. We tend to think that things are the same everywhere and they definitely aren’t!

    I live in Québec City. Reusable bags were introduced about 5 years ago and starting in 2009, the supermarkets charge US $0.05/bag if we don’t have our own! It’s amazing how this motivates people! Everyone uses their own bags. The stores all sell their own reusable bags, and the funnest thing is that many people don’t use bags if they only have a few items, even if the store doesn’t charge for bags! Proof that habits can be changed.

    Thanks for this great post! I love the t-shirt bag!!