Produce Loose as a Goose

All of the plastic ever made, still exists today.

Plastic Ocean
Charles Moore

Loose or in a Bag?

I say both!

But is it safe and Sanitary?

Due to the fear of germs and viruses, many people will place their fruits and vegetables into plastic produce bags. However, it is important to ask ourselves whether or not we are actually being protected. First, let’s look at why we have shifted away from using glass and paper and started using plastic for our produce and bulk items.

Plastic was heavily used during World-War II for military purposes, but when the war ended, plastic-producing companies wanted to find new ways to sell their product. It was at this time that plastic began to enter the consumer market and take over common practices. Bread no longer came wrapped in paper, nor was it freshly purchased from the Bake. It started to come in plastic bags and was marketed as being more, “sanitary that way”. Plus, plastic-producing companies emphasised the “convenience” of plastic and said it could be simply “thrown away” after a single use. They even tried to market this ‘convenience-factor’ as a “women liberation product”, since mum’s would no longer have to do dishes, they could just throw them away afterward.

These plastic companies have spent their billions of dollars marketing the idea to consumers and other businesses, that plastic is equivalent to “clean” and “safe”. They market the idea that plastic is a necessary evil in order to protect consumer health. They stoke fear in people, and then capitalise on that fear by marketing their own product. However, research shows that this fear is misguided and is simply exploited.

While plastic can be sanitary, if it is used for a first time and single-use, like doctors use in medicine, it is not a sanitary God. Viruses can linger on surfaces, including plastic surfaces. In fact, the Covid-19 research showed that the virus could linger on plastic for up to seven days. Meanwhile, plastic alternatives, like paper and cardboard, only held onto Covid-19 for less than a day. So, this idea that plastic is the perfect sanitary saviour is marketing folly.

Many people seem especially nervous about germs on the shopping cart or on the belt at check-out. However, I would argue, that since it is important to wash your fruit and vegetables regardless of how you collect them, the germs in the cart or on the belt play a insignificant role. Not to mention, by the time you are picking up your fruit and vegetables from the shop, they have likely come into contact with many hands and surfaces. From being picked at the farm, to packaging, shipping, and re-shelving, your fruits and veg are already about as dirty as they are going to get. So, save the plastic bag, and simply place them into your cart, loose. Better yet, invest in re-usable cloth bags, so that you don’t have to be that person rolling twenty onions down the belt at check-out.

I would like to emphasise that is important to wash fresh produce. Dirt and grit can get stuck between leaves, and if the fruit was grown with fresh manure, washing them will help you avoid infections like E. coli. Washing fruits and vegetables can be done with white vinegar, which acts as a disinfectant and can kill bacteria and germs. However vinegar can leave a lingering taste. For this reason, I opt for washing my fruits and veggies with water. Both the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommend washing your produce with water before consumption.

By now, most people are aware that plastic is harming our environment, yet, when I go to the grocery store I still see a vast amount of people still opting for the plastic produce bags. The average time that a plastic shopping bag or produce bag gets used is twelve minutes. It goes from the store, to your car, to your house, and to the landfill. Or maybe, you collect them in a plastic bag shrine under your sink like my family did growing up. Either way, these bags will eventually end up in the environment. Whether its when we do a big clean out or when we re-use them and they break, they will eventually end up in the environment.

Avoid being the creator of the urban tumble weed.

When I shop, I bring cloth produce bags. I mostly do this for the sake of the cashier at check-out. From experience as a cashier, I can say it is very annoying to try and fit fifteen loose oranges onto the tiny scale. Hence, why I try to now bring my re-uable cloth bags.

Occasionally I don’t have enough bags for all the produce or bulk items I buy, which means I will do one of three things. First, I will search to see if there are brown paper bags elsewhere in the store. I often find them in the bakery or near the mushrooms. I use these to fill up nuts at the bulk section or for collecting mandarins in the produce section. I will re-use the paper bags to help keep my compost dry. I try not to do this too often since I know using paper is wasteful too, but at least it breaks down, unlike plastic. Secondly, I may ask Customer Service if I can have one of their surplus wine boxes out back. Using surplus boxes is common practice here in New Zealand, but I am aware it almost never happens in the U.S. Boxes are a great option for when I forget my grocery bags too. My last resort, it to put my produce into my cart loose and become that person at checkout, but at least I am not that person that is using plastic, so I can wear the shame proudly.

Reusable Produce Bags To Buy

Below is a list of produce bags that I believe are made with sustainability in mind. Each company seems passionate about the need to get plastic out of our waste stream, while also caring about things like: workers rights, keeping toxic dye colours out of the products, and sourcing cotton that does not use pesticides that could harm the workers or the consumer. As always, I believe sustainability extends beyond the environment, which is why I chose brands that do more than just produce a product.

One thing I looked for when selecting companies to recommend, was the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS) certification. This certification means that a third party, outside of the company, has evaluated and assessed the company and their products with the following criteria in mind:

  • Soil Health
  • Fertilisers
  • Pesticides
  • Waste water treatment
  • Toxic dyes
  • Toxic bleaching
  • Workers Rights: working conditions, child labor, pay, discrimination, and more.
  • Animal Testing
  • Plastic Packaging
  • Food Contact Textiles must be 100% organic (rather than 95% for non-food products)

Simple Ecology

This U.S.-based company sells more than just produce bags, so you are in for a treat. Their commitment to zero waste resonates through each product that they offer. Most of their bags are made with unprocessed cotton. Bags should be washed in a cold wash and hung dry.

Brand Origin: United States
Produced in: India (GOTS certification guarantees Fair Trade)
Personally Used? No.


This New Zealand-based brand has exploded with success, but this has not swayed them from holding on to their core values. They offer a range of products, from tote bags to doggie poop bags.

Brand Origin: New Zealand
Produced in: India and China (SEDEX certification guarantees Fair Trade)
Personally Used? No.

Atlas and Ortus

This U.K-based company that re-uses and minimises packaging every step of the way. Their organic cotton produce bags are not the only products they offer wither. You will get a genuine vibe from their website via their transparency. It is clear that they are passionate about sustainability.

Brand Origin: U.K
Produced in: India (GOTS certification guarantees Fair Trade)
Personally Used? No.

Lead by example with the products you buy.

Share your example.

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