Plastic Produce Bags: Alternatives You Can Use

Australians were called self-entitled douchebags over their rage at the plastic bag ban. The majority of us Aussies have accepted the change, now it’s time to tackle plastic produce bags – those bags we put our fruit and vegetables in.

Photo of a typical supermarket scene showing fruit and vegetables and rolls of plastic produce bags.
A typical sight at supermarkets and greengrocers

It took only three months for the single use plastic bag ban to make an enormous difference in Australia. Even with strong resistance from shoppers, 1.5 billion plastic bags have been prevented from entering the environment.

Why Are Plastic Produce Bags So Bad?

However, much more action is needed. Plastic pollution not only affects animals, birds and marine life but also humans. As apex predators we consume the animals who have eaten plastic.

One quarter of fish caught have plastic in their stomach.

People are drinking tap water contaminated with micro-plastics, with 83% of samples found to be contaminated.

Most plastics leach hormone-disrupting chemicals and have been linked to a variety of chronic illnesses – so why would you put your food in a plastic bag?

Our plastic pollution problem will affect the next 16 generations. Let that sink in – the next 16 generations.

Shopping Without Plastic Produce Bags

Currently, it’s likely the majority of Australians are remembering to take their reusable bags when out shopping – preferably fabric Boomerang Bags.

Now it’s time to take the next step – to use reusable produce bags.

Plastic has only been around for about 60 years. People have shopped for a very long time without creating plastic waste. It can be done.

Photo of women shopping in 1939 and no plastic produce bags are in sight.
1939 and no plastic in sight

Our Journey in Using Alternatives to Plastic Produce Bags

When we started our own journey into alternatives to plastic produce bags, we could have purchased reusable produce bags online or from a whole foods or health food store. However, I was unwilling to spend that much money on what was a simple bag design.

We started by putting our fruit and vegetables directly into the carry basket which was okay for small amounts but completely impractical for a family size amount of apples or for smaller foods such as snow peas.

Paper Mushroom Bags as Produce Bags

I’ve also been known to use those paper mushroom bags supplied for free by supermarkets and placing fruit and vegetables in them as an alternative to plastic produce bags. They could be reused a couple of times and weren’t made of plastic, yet there had to be a better solution.

(Although, we still use the paper bags on the rare occasion that we run out of our own reusable produce bags at the supermarket.)

A word of warning here on paper mushroom bags. Ensure the checkout operator looks into the paper bag and sees whether there are mushrooms or not in the bag, otherwise you’ll get charged the expensive per kilo price for mushrooms when you have a much cheaper produce item in the bag! It’s happened to us – only once though, we learnt quickly on that one.

Baby Muslin Wraps as Produce Bags

I started looking around at home for what I had that could be made into produce bags and found a pile of muslin baby wraps. As our youngest was now four years old, those wraps were fair game.

When out shopping next, I acquired a plastic produce bag and took measurements to recreate the same sized bag at home, complete with tucks to enable the bag to expand at the base.

A plastic supermarket produce bag from Woolworths measures 24 cm in width and is 42 cm in height. It also has a 5 cm tuck at the bottom of the bag on both sides. I cut fabric into 68 cm (full width with two tucks) by 42 cm rectangles to make the bags.

My first attempt at a produce bag made from a baby wrap worked well. It was strong. The downside was, like the paper bag, you couldn’t see through it and the bag was a tad heavy at 31 grams. I definitely needed to try again with lighter fabric as fresh produce is sold by the kilogram and the weight of the bag is included in the price of the produce.

Silk Scarf as a Produce Bag

On the hunt at home again, I spied an old silk scarf. Silk is strong and lightweight and it seemed the perfect fabric for the job. Until at the checkout – when the silk somehow interfered with the scanning/weighing equipment. Back to the drawing board.

Cheesecloth as a Produce Bag

Off to Spotlight I went, purchasing a small amount of a super light weight cheesecloth type of muslin. The fabric was cheap enough, the expensive part was the seams needed reinforcing with another stronger fabric otherwise they’d tear open. I grabbed pre-made bias binding which increased the price significantly. I should have listened to the shop assistant when she said the cheesecloth was weak and would break easily. Guess what, yep, the bag broke.

Strong Muslin as a Produce Bag

Next experiment, this time I purchased a stronger muslin than the cheesecloth yet not as heavy as the baby wrap fabric. I picked a fabric with a cute bee pattern on it to signify why I was going to all this effort.

The bag was a success! It was lightweight at 16 grams. It was strong enough to hold potatoes or oranges, and it got a lot of attention at the shops with people asking where I got it from. It’s also washable.

Photo of a muslin produce bag.
Success at last!

I was happy with the bag, but not joyous. I still would have preferred a see through produce bag, and the problem of using expensive bias binding to reinforce the seams took the shine off the success.

Mosquito Netting as a Produce Bag

On the hunt again. After asking for advice at Spotlight on suitable affordable fabrics, I was directed to mosquito netting. This was a light bulb moment – the fabric was super strong, see through and very cheap to buy. But, it still needed reinforcing at the seams.

Bias Binding from Poplin

I then decided to make my own bias binding from poplin. It was time consuming to make as the poplin had to be pre-washed, ironed, cut into the narrow strips and then ironed folded over. The end result was perfect!

Photo of a roll of homemade bias binding made from poplin.
Homemade binding to reinforce the bag seams

The new mosquito netting bags weighed a mere 16 grams and were exceptionally cost effective to make. I ended up making a stack of them and giving them away as Christmas gifts.

I had finally found my ‘spark joy’ as Marie Kondo would say.

Photo of five oranges in a produce bag made from mosquito netting.
Produce bags made from mosquito netting

Lace Curtain as a Produce Bag

My next trial will be making produce bags from the copious amounts of lace curtain I found in the linen cupboard when de-cluttering the house. What a find that was!

Are You Ready to Make the Change?

Reusable fabric produce bags are definitely the way forward in helping to reduce the amount of plastics entering the environment.

They are easy to make with either purchased or old lace curtain or mosquito netting. The pattern to make your own produce bags is available for sale from this website under the shop tab.

If you’re not wanting to make your own fabric produce bags, browse Biome to purchase a set for yourself or someone else.

Every small sustainable change your household makes has huge benefits. By switching to reusable produce bags you are improving your tomorrow and also the tomorrow of future generations.

Considering making your own beeswax wraps instead of using plastic cling wrap? Find out how on How To Make Beeswax Wraps.

Interested in making another change – read the article on Alternatives to Wrapping Paper.

Please scroll down to the comments box and share the changes have you already made to reduce your usage of plastic.