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Reusable tote bag frustration

A couple of threads lately have talked about how to find/wash reusable tote bags to use at grocery stores, retailers, etc. and I think that's FABULOUS on everyone's part, I've been doing it for years. Nowadays they're darn cheap, too, and available everywhere.

For me, the problem is not finding them, but USING them. Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and one local market are the only places I have found that using these bags is easy and convenient. Most of the large grocery stores in my area have the bagging station right by the checkout, and they have no easy way for the cashiers to pack things in my reusable bags. I usually tell them I'm happy to pack things myself, but at some checkouts there isn't really anyplace to put the stuff where I can get to it! . Walmart and other stores that have the carousel-type bagging stations are the worst. It irks me to no end that they have reusable bags for sale for 99 cents, right in front of the checkout, and still make it so inconvenient for everyone to use them.

I hope my neck of the woods is the exception, not the norm.

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  1. i've also used them for a few years. responses are better now. but they've run the gamut from checkers trying to scan them, to baggers trying to bag them in plastic, to putting items in plastic and then in the totes and one poor soul looking panicked and telling me she didn't know how to bag in them. that and teasing for using bags with another store's logo.

    the actual bagging has been less of a problem and most baggers now seem up to the task. the stores with carousels just handle it by handing a bag to me to put in the cart as it's filled.

    1. Our store (Wegmans) does a good job of using the bags we bring in, but I do think it slows the checkers down. Having moved here after living in Germany for three years, I'm used to bagging my own groceries and would honestly prefer to do it myself (but that seems to really throw the checkers off).

      1. I've had no trouble using the reusable totes even at places like Target where they have the carousel and I'm using the big Ikea bags. They just put them on top of the carousel after they're filled.

        1. I haven't had a problem with this, although I do get weird looks sometimes when I say I have my own bags. This has gotten less frequent within the past year or so, and once at Old Navy the guy ringing me up actually gave me 20% for "trying to use less plastic!"

          I do find that when I put my own bags on the counter/say I have my own bags, 90% of checkers lose the ability to put items into bags. I am capable of bagging my own groceries, but often I am futzing with my wallet/finding my debit card/using the card machine/etc, and I have to do all that and then stand in the way of the next people in line as I bag my groceries and the checker watches me. Has anyone else had this problem?

          18 Replies
          1. re: rds246

            "have to do all that and then stand in the way of the next people in line as I bag my groceries and the checker watches me. Has anyone else had this problem?"

            YES, in SPADES! Not only do I want to use my reusable bags, I usually want to bag my own groceries, and I'm always feeling rushed. I don't drive, so I shop with a folding grocery cart (like old ladies use ;) and if I cannot pack it myself, things end up getting squished, or I don't have room for all my purchases. I try to turn on the charm so the cashier and folks behind me in line stop staring and tapping their feet, but most often this is a futile effort.

            Rather than try to apologize to these folks for THEIR bad behavior, I have started just letting them bag everything in those infernal plastic bags and toss them in a grocery cart, then find a bench near the exit and pack my reusable bags to my liking. I then put the plastic bags in the recycle container (if they have one).

            Grrrr. Trivial to some, I'm sure, but a major thorn in my side!

            1. re: southern_expat

              I have not had a problem using my bags, for the most part at the major grocery stores.

              At small stores and drug stores, it's a PITA. I prefer to bag my own groceries too - I even took a class, believe it or not, waaaay back in the day.

              I've witnessed the bagger put in three bags of bagels, egg cartons on top and then canned goods, in my own bags. Is this how they're taught to load groceries?? Honest to God. . .I did the same thing as you. Take it aside and repack. Sheesh!

              1. re: southern_expat

                Don't know if this applies, but we shop at the same grocery store most of the time and have come to know a couple of cashiers fairly well; so if the casher has a bagger, s/he'll turn around and say "they bring their own bags" or "they like to do the bagging" - so no real problems there. I paid my way through school cashiering and bagging, and I have on rare occasions pushed a bagger aside, saying "I *really* like to bag."

                We use a mix of Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and the local grocery everywhere - one person from TJ's commented on a foreign bag in their store, and I replied that I use theirs in other stores, so turnabout fair play. It's not like they can throw you out for using some other store's bag.

                1. re: harrie

                  harrie - That's so funny. I have Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and the local grocery store ones, and I'm obsessive about using the one from the store I'm going to. The other day I was in TJ's, and I was driving a different car and so only had my local chain store bag. I apologetically said to the cashier that my car was in the shop, etc. And she said, "No problem at all! At least you brought one!" And the local store bag had been given to me by the manager of my local chain when he saw me in line with a TJ's bag once!

                  1. re: cackalackie

                    LOL! I used to be the same way about only using a TJs bag in TJs, etc. Now I'm OK with using the TJs' bags elsewhere, but I do prefer non-store-branded bags, which I find hard to find. I just want a reusable bag without a particular store's branding on it.

                    But I got the absolute BEST resusable bag from the Red Cross when I donated blood back in November. Really big and strong. I even asked for another one for Christmas, but alas, my mother checked and they were out of them (saying "everyone loved those bags!")

                    However, I do have to say the best reusable store bag I've been given (free) was at my local liquor store last month. I was in buying about 6 bottles of wine (and a 22 oz. bottle of Guinness for some stew I was making that night for dinner). The guy asked "instead of a box, would you like this reusable bag?" Yes, it has their name, but I've been going there for about 15 years, and I like them, so I don't mind that it's branded with their name. But the best part is that it's partitioned into 6 compartments for the wine bottles and has a slightly hard bottom so the bottles stay upright and don't rattle against each other. Love that bag! I plan on buying another one from them as I usually buy wine by the case, but in mixed lots. Yeah, they've got boxes, but these bags are way easier to carry.

                    1. re: LindaWhit

                      Trader Joe's sells their own partitioned wine bags. They are maroon in color. I use one to hold the different color yarns and my crocheting projects.

                      1. re: LindaWhit

                        I don't know if these will work for you, but I love them. I have a couple that I have abused for 2+ years by overloading and walking 6 blocks home. Maybe a little expensive but I love AND no store logo.


                        1. re: corneygirl

                          Not bad! A friend who travels for her work said she was just at a Wegmans, and the checkout person gave her a free Wegmans tomato bag. I also love their other two - peapod and grapes!


                          THESE are store bags I wouldn't mind using, as they're pretty stylish! But alas - I'm still waiting for the Wegmans in Massachusetts (another year or so, I think).

                          1. re: LindaWhit

                            There's quite a variety of design and price for shopping totes at Etsy.com.

                            1. re: greygarious

                              I like the fleur-de-lis bags....but luckily, the several bags I have now are still holding up (2 old Trader Joe's bags and one I got from the Red Cross that's extra deep and wide). So I'll be sticking with them until they go kaput. But thanks for the site - will keep it in mind!

                              1. re: LindaWhit

                                Took a look at the f-d-l bags out of curiosity - and noticed on that seller's home page that they're having a special: a free tote bag when you buy two tee-shirts or onesies. Just so you know, in case you are in the market for these clothes.

                                1. re: greygarious

                                  If I'm in the market for onesies, sumpin's happened that I'm unaware of. ;-)

                            2. re: LindaWhit

                              Definitely cute enough to break my logo-free rule!

                            3. re: corneygirl

                              Love my Chico Bags... so easy to carry around and I just plop them on the conveyor belt (unfolded) and people have no problem using them.

                              1. re: Dommy

                                I still LOVE my Chico bags and they are going nice and strong. But if I were to replace them, I would instead get a Baggu Bag. They fold up nicely and have nice wide handles so you can put them over your shoulder. I have only one now, but I use it all the time for the farmers market, where I really have to carry around the produce for a while...



                            4. re: LindaWhit

                              My favorite wine Re-usable wine bag is this canvas one from Saucy Saks.


                              Most reusable wine bags are too short and the bottles still clank around. Or they are too narrow to put in wine + big bottles of beer. I love this ones because it is nice and tall. The canvas is nice and thick so it protects the bottles. 4 bottles of wine as well as four big bottom bottles of beer/champagne can fit and washes beautifully! It's a picnic essential for us (especially since we can also stuff in a nice baguette as well!)



                        2. re: southern_expat

                          I haven't tried this approach, but maybe it would work for you if you ask the bagger to unload your cart onto the belt, while YOU do the bagging.

                        3. re: rds246

                          A lot of times the checker assumes that because you have your own bags you have your own particular way you want stuff bagged... ie.you'll be happy to do it yourself. i am NOT a very good bagger and i wish they'd just do it for me! When they do, they usually do it just fine, but you have to jump on them about using the insulated bags for COLD things!

                        4. My experience with reusable bags here on the south end of the Denver area has been entirely positive. I shop in a mixture of large chain stores, smaller regional chains and independents and no one has ever batted an eye at my bags. Several of them give me a 5 or 10 cent credit for each bag I bring in.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: mandycat

                            Same story here in the DC 'burbs. Checkers are pretty accustomed to reusable bags. I place my bags in front of my items so they can see them coming and adjust accordingly. Sometimes I have to urge the checker or bagger to stuff more items in to a bag; they tend to be leery of overfilling.

                            I don't have an interest in bagging my own items so no personal experience there.

                          2. I have no problems at the grocery store or places like Target, but at stores at the mall, I have gotten a LOT of resistance. "We have to put it in one of our bags," "We're required to put purchased items in a STORE NAME bag," "It's for theft reasons" are some of the reasons I've been given. I try not to be an a*shole about it and just let them do what they have to, and then recycle the bag later.

                            At the grocery, I almost exclusively do the self-checkout now so I can bag my own. If a bagger comes by when I'm scanning my stuff I just call out, "I'll bag them, thank you!" and they move on to another lane. I personally don't care about making people wait who are behind me while I am bagging after I've finished checking out. It's part of the deal at the self checkout lane and most people are very patient, and courteous to each other. When I encounter someone who starts before I am anywhere near done with my bagging, I don't hesitate to tell them, "Hey, how about waiting until I'm done bagging!"

                            1. I usually put my reusable bags in front of my groceries on the belt so the cashier and bagger have them at the ready. Never had a problem.

                              1. Here in Toronto a plastic bag from the grocery store is no longer a given. Local statutes have been put in place to curb their use, and a fairly high number of people bring their own.

                                Sooo... many of stores here have retrofitted to accommodate those of us who bring their own.

                                1. We haven't moved up to the reusable/cloth bags yet (although we do have a couple in the house that we COULD take with us), but sometimes we'll take back our plastic bags to Dillons, which I think still rebates a couple cents a bag, but the real problem is that our Dillons hires a large number of "handi-capable" baggers who become flustered if they have to sack groceries into a bag that's not pre-mounted on the little metal bagging stand. As a result, we have to actively look for a checker who doesn't have a bagger waiting, so we can bag our groceries in a safe and logical manner. I admire Dillons for the effort, but I keep coming home with fruit and bakery items smashed under a 1/2 gallon bottle of fruit juice or meat mixed in with cleaning supplies.
                                  I don't know, until someone makes it either mandatory or easier to use cloth bags, I'll just take my plastic empties back and bag the groceries myself.

                                  1. The newer versions of the bags are built with a small loop in the center of one long side. Most metal frames that hold the plastic bags for bagging have a hook these loops go around, keeping them open for the baggers.

                                    If your bags don't have the loop, you can invest just a bit of money in some newer ones. The Target brand are my favorite.

                                    1. I've been using totes or years because it's easier to drag one large tote up four flights of stairs than a bunch of little plastic bags. Eventually, I got one of these folding crate carts too, where you can prop your bags up inside the crate while you fill the bags, and then fill i fill the crate with the heavy stuff.
                                      I've also seen these but they don't fold for storage:

                                      1. It doesn't seem to be a problem, for me (in the Philly burbs). I use them all the time, and have quite an ecclectic collection: TJ's, Acme, Giant, Genuardi's. I've even got a very nice, roomy, super sturdy one my hubby got from Sperry Topsider at a boat show, in addition to a quilted one I made. Even the checkers are savvy now, using the flimsier ones for light stuff and the more sturdy plastic-ish ones for heavy. They pay absolutely not attention to the logo on the bag. Since I have them with me in the car all the time, I take them everywhere: WalMart, shopping for fabric -- anywhere I would normally use a bag -- and I even keep a few at work in Center City in case I need to take stuff home with me on the train. I know it's more environmentally correct, but my motives for using them are pretty selfish: they can hold a lot more and they the have handles that make them much easier to carry.

                                        Funny thing, though, is that I still ask for paper + plastic every once in a while so that my hubby has bags for when he empyies the cat's litter box.

                                        1. I have enough bags for a sh*tload of groceries and rarely use them all in one trip. Some are branded bags, some are canvas totes from the thrift store, no problem with that. The problem is the packers pack so much into each one (especially cans and other heavy items) instead of making use of the multitude of bags, that I can barely lift them from the cart to my truck, and sometimes can't lift them at all, so I have to redistribute the load in the parking lot. This is in spite of telling the baggers to please distribute the heavy stuff into more bags.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: morwen

                                            I'd then tell the baggers "No thanks - I'll do it myself." Or give Customer Service a suggestion on making sure the baggers don't overload.

                                          2. I get nasty looks from one local supermarket, but I just don't care. I only stop in there for quick emergency pick-ups anyway, because I don't like them any more than they don't like my bags.

                                            In other stores where the checker or a bagger bags, I just put my bags on the belt first, before I start loading my purchases on there. No one's ever complained.

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: irishnyc

                                              This made me laugh -- "I don't like them any more than they don't like my bags."

                                              I used to sorta dread "the look" when plopping my reusable bags on the belt at WalMart, but nowadays I don't get "the look" like I used to. Kinda takes the fun out of it! ;)

                                              I figure someday a bunch of megamart CEOs are finally going to figure out that all those plastic bags are really cutting into their bottom line and then those of us who already have reusable bags by the dozen will have the last laugh! :)

                                            2. Is there some constant in where they're easily accepted and where reusable bags causeThe Look? Even here in deeply traditional St. Louis, I get no BS when I use my canvas bags. And our stores often use baggers who are challenged; they're cool with it, too. The only confusion I get is because the zipper on my largest one is partly torn off and it's easy to think it's a handle. (Need to work on that....)

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: lemons

                                                This could be a good sociological study- similar to the coke vs. pop vs. soda map, no?

                                                I can report that "The Look" is not present in either Boston nor Raleigh, NC.

                                                1. re: raleighboy

                                                  I concur about Raleigh.

                                                  (And a lady working at the Kroger was quite impressed recently with my new Harris Teeter bag. It's a bigger one that folds up and snaps, has 2 little pieces of hardness in the bottom - and the handles are long enough to put over your shoulder.)

                                                  1. re: cackalackie

                                                    Of course now in Toronto, the cashier asks if you need a bag, because they are required to charge for them, but prior to the new law, I rarely got the Look. At the stores I shop at, there are so many customers without cars, that it's common to want to use things like backpacks and bags that are better for carrying.

                                                    However, my sister who lives in the burbs outside of the city, always gets, not THE Look, but another kind of look. A deer in the headlights look of utter confusion as to why she wants her groceries not bagged, but just pushed to the end of the counter so she can load them into her own bags or plastic baskets. As if they have never, ever seen someone bring their own bags (even though they sell them in the store).

                                                  2. re: raleighboy

                                                    Just down the road in Chapel Hill, NC - I still get "the look" at Food Lion 2/3 of the time, but it's getting better. Never get it at Harris Teeter, Trader Joes, or Whole Foods. I did have the worst bagging experience ever the other day at HT, with bags loaded clumsily and uneven, but it was rush hour and one of the managers was bagging, so I just chalked it up to him being a better manager than bagger :)

                                                2. My sister, who lives in South Carolina, and I (Kansas City) exchanged local bags so we can have an interesting variety. She was thrilled with the University of Kansas bag I sent her. And who else in KC has a bag from the Pig (Piggly Wiggly)?

                                                  All the stores in this area almost expect you to have them. I prefer the ones that have a sturdy bottom so hard things don't tip over onto soft things. I was pretty angry with the girl who tried to pack about 20 pounds into one bag, even though I gave her two bags. Trying to save the store a nickel? She broke the little loop.

                                                  I was chatting with a manager at one of the major chains here who told me their orders for plastic and paper bags have dropped dramatically. That's the whole point, right?

                                                  1. My frustration comes from the fact that I keep forgetting to bring them along.

                                                    9 Replies
                                                    1. re: Withnail42

                                                      Do you drive a car to shop? Here we do, so I keep mine in the trunk. That way they're always with me when I stop by the market.

                                                      1. re: decolady

                                                        The tricky part is getting them from kitchen to car - I've taken to hanging them on the front doorknob (fold them up and put them into one bag).

                                                        1. re: greygarious

                                                          I do the same, kind of -- as soon as they're emptied they go on the coat rack right by the door.

                                                          1. re: greygarious

                                                            Ah, that can be true. I have been known to hang them on the garage doorknob. Or one of my lovely darling daughters goes and puts them in the trunk when we finish unloading the groceries. My younger one always wants to do that.

                                                          1. re: appycamper

                                                            I can get them to the door, but what happens is that that is where they wind up staying.

                                                            1. re: Withnail42

                                                              Well my handbag "lives" in the kitchen. So when I unpack the groceries, I place the bag right by (or under) my handbag. So next time I go to my car, I'm taking it with me.

                                                              1. re: Withnail42

                                                                Ah, probably depends on your layout. We have an attached garage that opens into the family room/breakfast room/kitchen. It's easy to bring the groceries in and unload. Then my daughter usually just puts them back in the car trunk. If she's not here and I hang them on the door handle, it's easy for the next person going to the garage to take them out. Too hard to open the door without moving them.

                                                                1. re: decolady

                                                                  I won't use anyone's (grocery bag name). I use a Loew's bag and I bought 10 of them. That way, no matter what grocery store I am in, I am not hurting anyone's feelings. I have One place for meat and fruit and veggies especially. And one for other things like cofee, etc. So wouldn't use the "wrong" bag. :-) As for putting them back in the trunk, everything has a place and I can't stand it if anything isn't put "away immediately". but, I do it myself.

                                                          2. For me, there has been a habit shift in the nearly 2 years since the OP. Taking the reusable totes has become second nature. I no longer - ever - forget to put them into the car or take them into the store. Like it said in the old magazine ad for VW, which pictured only the stick shift, "After a while if becomes automatic."

                                                            1 Reply
                                                            1. re: greygarious

                                                              Here too. Our stores all have signs that say, "DON"T FORGET YOUR BAGS". So, they encourage it. I would say it is about 50% here.

                                                            2. I've had no problems except at Walmart, like you said. The carousel-type bagging stations you mention are a hurdle for sure. I've even had cashiers at Walmart glance at my bags and ask, "you want your groceries in those?" LOL. Luckily I do most of my grocery shopping at Kroger where they load my groceries into my bags w/out complaint and I get a 5 cent credit per bag.

                                                              1. I live in the DC burbs and, if anything, the trend to CHARGE for using the store plastic bags is growing! I use recycle bags from every store from Fresh Market to Shoppers Food Warehouse and no one has ever made a comment about using a bag of a competitor. I use the wine recycle bags for olive oils, pasta sauces and such. A friend of mine used one for baby bottles.

                                                                5 Replies
                                                                1. re: rHairing

                                                                  Where we live, the vast majority of reusable bats I see in and leaving stores do NOT belong to the store, and I have yet to see any raised eyebrows or sneers or hear any remarks or even grunts. Who knows if you shopped at WhizBang Grocery and Trumpet Store or if your Auntie Grizelda thought their bag was just so gorgeous that she got you one, too?

                                                                  1. re: lemons

                                                                    You have reusable BATS and an Auntie Grizelda where you live? ;-)

                                                                    1. re: LindaWhit

                                                                      It's very hard to recycle the bats, and washing them is nothing short of an ordeal, but it can be done with patience. Auntie G is a peach.

                                                                      Reusable bags, of course; thanks for catching the typo and making me giggle.

                                                                  2. re: rHairing

                                                                    The one and only time I got a smartaleck comment about the logo on my bags, I just asked which he preferred -- that I use Store X's bags here in your store while I give my money to YOUR store (paying your salary on the way by, thank you very much), or use YOUR bags at Store X and give my money to them?

                                                                    Dead silence -- gulping like a goldfish -- and a profuse apology.