Reusable tote bags cut down on clutter, waste

It’s chic to be green these days. Whether it’s wearing jeans made out of organic cotton or recycling last season’s shirts, going green is the new black.

Green chic has popped up in a surprisingly simple place as an item long used by casual farmers-market shoppers is catching on worldwide as a way to reduce waste: the reusable tote.

“I think people are realizing where plastic comes from and the oil production that goes along with that, and they’re realizing where paper comes from and trying to reduce their impact,” says Michael Marques, a supervisor at the Bellingham Community Food Co-op. “They don’t need to have a fresh paper bag every time they shop. They can bring their own bag.”

Reusable totes gained a chic and cheeky face with the “I’m Not a Plastic Bag” tote by British designer Anya Hindmarch. The bags debuted stateside June 20 and sold out within hours. A representative for the brand said the response has been overwhelming, and a press release lists Keira Knightley and Reese Witherspoon as users and reusers of the tote.

Putting a stylish face on an issue often considered bland can make doing your part for the environment just a bit peppier; it can only be good when what’s fashionable is what’s right.

“A lot of times those kind of reusable totes are kind of ugly,” Marques says. “But if you’re able to make them really hep and stylish, any time you make it interesting to do something good, people have a good response to that.”

For the ultra chic and wealthy, high fashion houses such as Hermes and Marni offer sleek totes in the $800 to $1,000 range, creating a status symbol that says, “I’m rich, and I care.”

But you don’t have to lose all your green just to go green. At larger chain stores such as Fred Meyer and Haggen, inexpensive totes are available. Haggen started selling its 99-cent totes, which resemble large, green paper bags, in mid-June.

“We ordered 10,000 of them for 15 of our stores, and in the first seven days we sold 2,100 tote bags,” says Haggen spokeswoman Becky Skaggs. “We live in a great community that is interested in doing things that are good for the earth.”

On the next order, totes will be purchased for all 32 of the company’s stores, and the market could extend beyond basic totes, into wine carriers and insulated bags, Skaggs says. With such popular demand, Haggen is not alone in the move toward reuse and away from plastic.

“There is a push in many places in the country to reduce the usage of plastic bags, and this is one way for us to be ahead of that,” she says.

The Co-op also offers its own logoed canvas bag for $11.95 or a nylon ChicoBag that crinkles into a tiny case for $5. The store also offers a card that gets punched every time customers use a recycled bag or container or tote bag. After 20 punches, customers get $1 off their purchases.

“We sell an incredible amount of canvas bags,” Marques says. “Our shopper base in general is really conscious of trying to bring their own cloth bags or bringing their paper bags back.”

If not for the good of the environment, pick up a tote to save your cupboards from the crinkly overflow of accumulating plastic bags.

“It frees up your kitchen space,” Marques says. “If you fill five bags a week and you’re reusing those bags, you don’t end up with all that clutter and mess.”