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Reusable Produce Bags
The waste from flimsy single-use plastic produce bags can add up quickly. We explore a convenient, sustainable alternative with a variety of uses.
Published Aug. 14, 2020. Appears in America's Test Kitchen TV Season 22: Holiday Dessert and Salad
What You Need To Know
Reusable produce bags are popular choices to reduce plastic waste and conveniently transport produce home from the grocery store or farmers’ market. In some cases, they can also be used to contain nuts, grains, and other items sold in the bulk bins at grocery stores. There are dozens of bags on the market, and many of them are seemingly identical. Seeking a set of bags that stood out, we assembled and tested a lineup of 10 sets—four cotton, three polyester, two nylon, and one recycled plastic—which ranged in price from about $0.60 to about $5.00 per bag. We used the largest bag from each set as our testing model. One of the cotton sets included two styles—tightly woven fabric and mesh—so we included one of each for a total of 11 bags. We looked at how much food each bag could comfortably hold, how easy the bag was to clean, and how well it held up to abuse testing meant to simulate months of use. While there is some discussion about whether the resources required to manufacture reusable produce bags might cancel out any environmental benefit the bags could contribute by reducing waste, they continue to be popular. We focused our attention on the bags’ performance and sturdiness to inform consumers looking to take advantage of their convenience and potential sustainability.
Capacity: Bigger and Stretchier Is Better
We wanted a bag that was both big and sturdy, so we filled each first with an oversize bunch of kale and then again with 5 pounds of russet potatoes to test their capacities. The bags didn’t vary much in width, ranging from 10.25 to 12.5 inches, but they varied considerably in length, from 13 to 20 inches. Predictably, the largest bags could hold more food. But we identified another important variable: how much a bag could stretch. Of the bags we tested, those made of cotton had more natural stretch than the bags made of synthetic materials. The mesh cotton bags had the most give of all, stretching around the bulky kale bunches and potatoes with ease. We liked the stretch of the cotton mesh bags and the dimensions of the largest bags, so we recommend both when it comes to capacity.
Was Closing a Cinch?
A reusable bag is only as useful as its ability to keep items contained during shopping or transport, and we identified a few key factors that set some bags apart. Every bag in our lineup was equipped with a drawstring, but only eight of those bags were also equipped with closure beads, which, once slid into place along the drawstrings, kept the bags closed. To close and then open the four bags without those beads, we had to tie knots in their drawstrings and then untie them—tedious extra steps when compa...
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The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing. We stand behind our winners so much that we even put our seal of approval on them.
Chase is an associate editor for ATK Reviews. He's an epidemiologist-turned-equipment tester and biscuit enthusiast.