Our Top 5 Favorite Reusable Products
This list was hard to pair down to only our top five reusable solutions (cloth diapers could have made it, but they'll get their own article)
When I talk about reusable solutions, few have the longevity and versatility of glass mason jars. They are designed for canning jams, jellies, fruits and vegetables, and we certainly use them for long-term food preservation. We also them in our bulk pantry where you will find rows of labeled jars containing everything from quinoa to flour.
The pros for mason jars are accessibility, size variety, and as I said before, they last forever!
When making my shopping list, all I have to do is walk over and look at how much is left in each jar. We use larger jars which can carry 5 lbs of flour or sugar and smaller jars for grains and other bulk products that we don’t use as frequently. Being glass means they can be washed and reused countless times without cross contamination.
But here’s the reason the land on our top: They last FOREVER! Seriously, I have jars older than I am, and that’s the definition of sustainability.
There is one drawback: Lugging a crate of glass jars to the supermarket just doesn’t sound realistic or safe. That was the reason behind creating the reusable bulk bags ONEbag for Bulk which we use as an intermediary to get our bulk goods home and into their permanent jars.
Reusable Grocery Bags:
(Shopping bags/produce bags/ bulk bags)
One of my first jobs was as a grocery store cashier where single-use plastic bags were the standard. A few shoppers would ask for paper bags, or paper in plastic (it's a real thing). Plastic bags were great for the shopper in that they didn’t break as easily, but they actually were beneficial for the store.
For those of you who don’t know, cashier efficiency is key to a supermarket’s profitability. In fact, I met my husband because part of Chris’s job was to train cashiers like me on how to increase the number of items they could scan a minute. Plastic bags come attached to each other in stacks of 50 and when you tear away one it is supposed to open up the next so the cashier can keep swiping and bagging items. So imagine how much time is lost with paper bags or, heaven forbid, reusable tote bags!
I’m not proud of it, but I remember how annoyed I’d get while unfolding the mess of canvas bags and trying to set them up so I could move through a pile of groceries, and the whole time I was just thinking this is killing my efficiency score!
I share that story because it typifies the common view of this key reusable product that I’ve placed on this list as a MUST ADD as soon as you can possibly wrap your head around it. Trust me, I want you to know I get it; dragging around a bunch of tote bags and kids isn’t my idea of a great time.
Having said that, when one bag takes upwards of 450 YEARS to decompose (Biologicaldiversity.org), I can’t say that the number of bags I bring home every week that I use maybe once more before adding them to the trash heap is justifiable.
Now if you find this alarming don’t worry, I’m sure you’re not turning into a tree-hugging environmentalist just by seeing this might be problematic. It just means you’re a reasonable person with common sense. Starting an environmentally friendly practice doesn’t have to be an odd experience, and believe it or not, there are tons of knowledgeable, supportive (NICE) people out there who are excited to help you get started!
This help is great because reusable shopping and zero-waste shopping takes a bit of a different approach. Right now you may come home with 20 bags of groceries and think there is no way I’m buying 20 market bags! What I’m finding, however, is the tote bags hold significantly more and help me buy only what I need instead of extras I’ll end up throwing out. Currently, the most I use is 10 reusable grocery bags (for a family of 7). I’ve made a couple custom larger bags from our chicken feed bags and these are AMAZING for carrying the majority of our dried goods.
When I switched to reusable shopping bags, I discovered one huge problem: I was filling these with smaller plastic bags! Produce, meats, bulk foods, and bulk dog treats all had their own single-use plastic bags, and it sort of felt like I was defeating the purpose. That is when I started making reusable produce bags and bulk bags.
I have used mesh produce bags and to be honest, they really are great (ssshhh don’t tell anyone I said that). They don’t last very long (in our case only a couple months after several washes), but they allow you to shop similar to the way you would with a single-use plastic bag. When I thought about these though, I figured there has to be a way to make a longer lasting reusable produce bag.
As always, I broke out my sewing machine and fabric and designed something similar to what I’d seen before except it was part mesh, part fabric, and I added waterproof lining to protect the fabric and make them machine washable. Just like that, I had a cute ONEBag for Produce. I have other articles about our reusable produce bags so I’m going to move along, but I wanted to share this because, yes, I’m proud of these stylish bags, but they were inspired by first seeing a problem with a simple fix.
Once I had the bags made, I just had to figure out how not to be charged for the extra weight (Tare weight) of the bag. I looked online and learned about tare weight the amount that can be deducted at the register on a weighted item so I added a tag with the weight listed on the inseam. I went in and showed the tare tag to the cashier and they took care of the discount (and she asked where she could get her own bags)!
My recommendation is to start with one reusable bag or set of bags. For some, starting with a reusable produce bag and then adding tote bags may be an easier transition. Like I said about refillable coffee mugs, my ONEBags are personalized with a stylish fabric that I love taking out and showing off, and that encourages me to always take them with me. So check out our shop and you just might find a design that gets you excited to go plastic-free. The important thing is to add at least one reusable item and get started!
Being completely honest here, I’m not a big straw user. In fact am not above putting my lips on the rim of a restaurant glass because I consider a straw a convenience, not a necessity. That being said, I know many of you simply cannot function without straws, and you need a reusable solution.
Metal straws are pretty cool, and it is encouraging to walk through a restaurant and see more and more metal instead of plastic. As with most plastic replacement products, convenience is the biggest detractor from the reusable straws. For instance: where do I keep my straw? In my pocket? My purse? Do I make a necklace and wear it like a medallion?
Now, these are silly, superficial negatives about reusable straws, but there is a point to be made: reusable straws and other sustainable products are designed to be functional and long-lasting, and the tradeoff is going to be some inconvenience.
Some of you might wonder as I did, why replacing one small plastic straw is such a big deal. According to the U.S. National Park Service, “Americans use 500 million drinking straws every day.”
If you need to visualize this, apparently it is enough straws to fill 125 school buses with plastic that does not breakdown over time and has to be recycled properly to be of any use in the future. So don’t think that one small act like switching to a reusable straw won’t have a significant impact over time.
For those of you who don’t care for drinking through metal, I have also seen reusable straws made of bamboo, glass and hard plastic. In fact, we have a set of hard plastic straws we’ve been using for almost 5 years so if you’re desperate for that plastic taste there are options that offer longevity which is the whole goal of a sustainable product.
In short, while reusable straws are not high on our list, they make an excellent starter option when learning how to live waste-free.
Reusable Lunch Bags:
Just like water, people have been taking midday meals to work and school for centuries and needed ways to carry it. Lunch pails and lunch boxes have always been novel reusable products, but with modern lunch has come modern storage including tons of single-use aluminum foil, plastic wrap, plastic baggies, and overly packaged single serving snacks. The effect is an awesome, reusable lunchbox filled with pastic waste.
I remember having a friend growing up whose mother would wash and reuse ziplock bags and I thought it was plain weird, and while this is better than simply throwing the bag out, a bag made to be used once isn’t going to last very long before it’s trash.
This is another area where I am a fan of using sturdy reusable plastic containers (my mother still has Tupperware containers from the 80s. That’s what I mean by sturdy). There are glass and pyrex options available with the primary benefits being washability and easier portion control
Reusable snack bags are great for a standard sandwich lunch with carrots and goldfish. I added a waterproof lining to protect the fabric from moisture exposure which could damage the bag over time.
Refillable Coffee Mug and Other Beverage Containers:
I cannot think of a time when refillable cups and mugs weren’t a part of life. I remember my dad’s old work truck always having a thermos and a couple refillable coffee mugs rolling around the cab floor. I remember middle school when getting a bike with a water bottle holder meant you were the very definition of hip!
Reusable drink containers are not a new idea by any stretch of the imagination. Water, pots, water skins and canteens are only a few of the historical iterations as there’s always been a need for mobile water. The problem is as much as we need water, we love convenience and nothing says convenient quite like a personal-sized bottle of ice-cold water I can pick up at the gas station or the grocery store.
However, as straw use showed, plastic conveniences come at a huge cost (FYI: we buy roughly 1 million water bottles a minute according to a 2017 Forbes article and several other sources).
The return to refillable water bottles is certainly encouraging and really one of the most sensible of these this top five list. Even if it’s as simple as a reusable water bottle, that lasts a year it will still help reduce your plastic footprint. Having said that, this is one product where you get what you pay for and with some of the versatile options out there, spending the extra money will give you a much longer lasting product.
Company’s like Hydro Flask recognize the utility of a versatile container that can be used for hot and cold beverages. I don’t normally plug other companies, but they are the best insulated stainless steel bottles and canteens around. Seriously, I’ve seen a Hydro Flask keep coffee HOT for my 2 pm refill and ice still unmelted a day later. That takes a product from sustainable back to responsibly convenient offering significant savings over single-use bottles and disposable coffee cups.
One thing refillable mugs and water bottles offer is the opportunity for personalization. I love seeing bottles adorned with stickers or designs that tell us a little about the owner. When I designed the ONEBag, I saw the row of refillable coffee mugs at Starbucks. I’ve managed to avoid buying too many of them, but they are just stinking cute! It’s almost impossible not to find a design or pattern that makes you instantly pick it up and at least check the price.
I thought it would be nice to have a personalized reusable produce bags that showed off a little bit of style the same way refillable coffee mugs generally get us excited to take them out. We’re proud of what they say about us, and mugs just like other reusable are much easier to remember to use if we like the experience!
(Now for the shameless social plug):
We are on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @ONEBag4Produce sharing tips and advice and how to's about our products and those that others have created that we love to use and are helping us. If you found this article useful please encourage us by sharing, liking, commenting and of course sharing your success tips with us. Thanks and let's talk again soon! -Kelly and Chris
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