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5 Alternative Uses for Reusable Shopping Bags

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Too many reusable shopping bags? They’re good for way more than just groceries.


There can be too much of a good thing when it comes to reusable shopping bags for your groceries. Those bags are tempting to buy — so many supermarkets have cute seasonal designs, and they’re usually pretty affordable (especially if you’re buying a week’s worth of groceries, what’s another dollar or two tacked onto your receipt?). Plus, what else are you to do when you forget your bags at home, except buy another one (or three)?

But when the bags accumulate and take up all your trunk space, as has been the case with me, it’s time to find other uses for those shopping bags. Keep 5 to 8 shopping bags on hand (I probably never use more than four at a time, even on post-vacation-replenishment shopping trips), and find creative ways to use or get rid of the rest. And of course, for the ones that you use, don’t forget to wash them regularly to eliminate bacteria!

1. Tote and store library books. If your kids — like mine — check out an unmanageable armload of books each time they go to the library, bring a sturdy tote along to carry all the books. My library issues a receipt for the books I check out, so I like to use a bag that has a front pocket, so I can tuck the receipt in there. The bag can also serve as a place to corral the library books until they need to be returned. We keep ours alongside our sofa.

2. Hold pool, beach or bath toys. Poke holes in the bottom of a PVC or plastic mesh bag to make the perfect tote for pool or beach toys. You can even rinse the sand off the toys by dipping it into the water and letting it drain. At home, mount some heavy-duty suction cups on the tile wall and you can hang the bag of toys from it between baths.

3. Donate to a food pantry or a canned food drive. Chances are, spending a couple of bucks on a reusable bag means nothing to you… but to someone on a fixed income or in financial distress, it’s a luxury. Consider donating any bags that are clean and in good condition to a food pantry, homeless shelter, or senior center, to the organizers of a canned food drive, or to another charitable organization.

4. Plant with it. If you can’t bear to part with a particularly cute shopping tote, turn it into a planter, which can sit on a step or even hang from a hook. Bags would be cute filled with flowers, and are actually quite good as a vegetable container garden because they are deep.

5. Make cleaning and organizing easier. Try keeping a shopping bag each at the top and bottom of your stairs, or hanging from the banister. Use it to hold miscellaneous items that need to go upstairs (or down), and every day or so, carry the whole bag to its rightful floor to put the items away. The bags are also handy to keep inside of a car to fill with items that need to be brought inside.

Besides toting groceries, what have you used reusable shopping bags for? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Amy H. 1 year ago
    I am a crafter (or a collector of craft materials, haha), the Reusable Tote Bags have been great for storing some of my collected craft supplies. I put 550 Paracord in some of them, Pencil Boxes or Reusable Plastic Containers of Beading supplies in others, Quilting Fabric uses a few of them, and Yarn finds a home in some of them too. Then I label the bags with a Sharpie and stack them on shelving. It keeps each type of craft organized better.
  • Randy F. 1 year ago
    ☂ In my opinion, the 'fabric' used for "reusable totes" toted at most stores is like high quality, completely perforated, paper toweling; needing to be replaced monthly +/- so we just invest in canvas bags that DON'T rip under a few pounds' pressure! The money (and materials/ carbon footprint etc.) saved makes it acceptable to buy the upscaL.L. Bags with the monogram. Plus they're waterproof. ☂
    • Randy F. 5 months ago
      ☂Grocery Bags: Re-Reading this a year later I see I might have conveyed the opposite or a confusing statement - depending how you read the above. "Glorified paper toweling" might be better wording since they are undependable, a real gamble, and have a short life cycle for grocery hauling. We could never again trust them with glass jars or cans - crackers & cheese maybe. ☂
    • Michael W. 2 months ago
      I use envirosax for the same reason. I like that I can fill them with canned goods or a turkey and still throw them over my shoulder knowing it wont break at the seams.
  • Paula L. 2 years ago
    I use colorful reusable shopping bags as gift wrap. This year I got beautiful large bags from TJ Maxx for just $1 each. For smaller gifts I use cotton dishcloths from the dollar store.
  • Kelly F. 2 years ago
    Plastic grocery/drugstore bags make ideal garbage bags (instead of buying garbage bags; they are ALSO made of plastic but at least with the grocery bags you're getting another use out of them) and the clothing/accessory/soap bags (the paper tote ones like you get at Sabon, The Body Shop, Bath&Body Works, Victoria's Secret, etc) can be reused as gift bags.
  • Theresa G. 3 years ago
    I donate any plastic bags I may get to the food pantry. I have my own reuseable grocery bags.
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