Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Getting produce home plastic free

Now that I am trying to buy produce and dry goods more locally, I am purchasing a lot more products that are not pre-packaged.  Therefore getting these items home without spilling all over can pose a bit of a challenge. Sure there are plenty of plastic bags at the grocery store, but if I am buying products that don't have packaging then taking them home in plastic feels slightly self-defeating. I first toyed with the idea of taking my mason jars to the store with me, but that can be rather cumbersome. So, I purchased some produce bags online from chico to get me started.

When I received these bags in the mail I realized that they couldn't have been too difficult to make.  And even though they are nice bags and come in an adorable little easy-to-cary apple pouch,  honestly, for the price I wouldn't buy them again.  In my research this past week about ways to go green, I found countless DIY bag projects that recycle old t-shirts into cloth market bags.  Finally, I realized that I could likely do the same to make more produce/bulk bags.  I found a few DIY produce bag projects online, but many of them required a great deal of sewing.  So, since I'm not the best seamstress and I currently do not have a sewing machine (both facts that I hope to remedy this year), I decided to try amending these projects.

As a result, I created my own DIY produce bag project.  This is a much easier project, and I was able to complete it by hand (taking pictures included) in less than an hour.  Anyway, here it is.

And, seriously if I can do this, then truly anyone can!

DIY Recycled Produce Bag (aka Cotton Cinch Bag)

For this project you need only a few things and you probably have them all lying around.  First, you'll need an old undershirt, men's or women's doesn't matter.  The only qualification is that it must have a hem at the bottom.  Certainly if you don't mind the extra work of sewing a hem yourself you can use anything you want, but I purposely chose the hemmed undershirt for this project to avoid extemporaneous sewing.  Another reason I chose undershirts for this project is that almost all of these shirts are 100% cotton, the benefits of which include:

  • they are washable making them versatile in the variety of products they can hold
  • they are stretchy allowing you a lot of room 
  • they are absorbent allowing you to carry veggies that are frequently watered
  • they are a completely renewable resource

Here's a list of everything else you'll need:
  • Needle and Thread (or sewing machine if preferred)
  • Scissors
  • 1 safety pin
  • String of some kind-I used 100% natural cooking twine (A shoelace would also work nicely if you have some old shoes you're getting rid of.)

Step 1. Turn the shirt inside-out then fold in half.

Step 2. Cut off the top of shirt to make a curved bag shape. (this will become the bottom of the bag)

Step 3. Sew the bottom of the bag together along the curved line (be sure that you still have the fabric turned inside out or you will have an ugly seam on the outside of your bag.

After, completing the sewing. Turn right side out.  You should now have a loose bag 

Step 4. Cut a small slit in the hem of the shirt but do not go below the seam. (This will be the top of the bag)

 Step 5. Take the twine/string and tie a knot at one end. Insert the safety pin through the knot. (do not shorten or cut the other side yet.

Step 6. Feed the twine through the hem of the shirt until it comes out the other opening.

 Step 7. Cut the string/twine so that it is long enough to hang out fully extended.  Tie the two ends together to form a cohesive round string.

 Step 8: Test it!  Pull the cinch tight to see if it works.  There you have it you're very own 100% recycled all natural reusable produce bag.

Step 9: Remember to take it with you to the market!


Plastic-Free Beth Terry said...

Great tutorial. Tweeted and posted on Facebook.

Angie said...

Love it! I make bags from old t-shirts especially to put meat and produce in because I don't care if it leaks. If it's wet or sticky, just toss it in with the laundry. They seem to baffle the baggers at my store though. >:/

Zom said...

Then do you just plop it into your fridge? I am looking for a way to stop using plastic bags for green beans, sprouts etc.

Kristen Arnold said...

I hope that you and I can continue to spread the word so that homemade Tshirt bags are something so normal that cashiers are no longer baffled :-)

Kristen Arnold said...

Thanks so much for spreading the word!

Kristen Arnold said...

I currently do just place the produce free in my crisper drawers free of bags or anything. if you do not have crisper drawers or don't want them plopping around loose there are a couple different things you can do to avoid using plastic.

First, you can keep some veggies fresh in a glass jar or vase of water similar to cut flowers. Just a small amount of water can keep some produce fresh for up to two weeks in the fridge. I always recommend this for green leafy produce (greens, kale, lettuce, etc.), cut herbs, or stalk harvested produce (asparagus, cut celery, etc.) This method will not work for produce sold by heads (cabbage, whole romaine hearts, cauliflower, brocoli sometimes works sometimes doesn't depending on the freshness of the brocoli and the size of the stem.)

Second option requires a little more work and a small investment. But, if you have ever seen the salad in a jar, the same process works for other produce besides lettuce. I have used this method to keep cut veggies fresh for days at a time but I've never let it go past a week. If you need to know more about this method you can either email me or you can check out this blog: Paula, the author has some great food ideas beside her salads in a jar, it is just what she is best known for.

Finally, your most low cost and maintenance free option is of course to keep them in the bags and put the whole bag in the fridge. Yes the bag being made of cotton won't act as a barrier against air, but it will help to keep the produce from absorbing other flavors in the fridge.

I hope this helps, please feel free to comment at anytime with any questions you may have. Take care!