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The Best Reusable Bags for Grocery Shopping, According to Members of the Park Slope Food Co-op

Photo: Retailers

New York’s ban on single-use plastic bags was supposed to go into full effect on March 1, 2020, but like most things, it was delayed by COVID-19 until October 2020. But, one place that still asked customers to bring their own bags throughout the pandemic was the Park Slope Food Co-op. In fact, they first discontinued single-use plastic bags in 2008, putting them “about 12 years ahead of the curve,” as Co-op general manager Joe Holtz puts it. Co-op members are known to be an eclectic bunch who are particular about their produce, so most members have a specific philosophy about their grocery bags — down to exactly how they’re packed. While it’s true that some co-op members carry their groceries up and down Union Street in cardboard boxes up-cycled from the store’s deliveries, others take their locally sourced produce and bulk dry goods home in reusable bags and backpacks. We asked a dozen such members with particular taste — including the co-founder of Opening Ceremony, the New Yorker writer who penned an ode to the co-op, and a couple of Strategist team members — about their favorite canvas and non-canvas bags, backpacks, carts, and produce bags for their co-op groceries. (And since the co-op is in the much debated process of phasing out plastic produce bags, we also have some picks for the best reusable produce bags, too.)

Best canvas grocery bags

Most of the co-op members we spoke to recommended shopping with at least one canvas tote. Fundraiser Jessica Weakly has been using this Strategist-favorite L.L. Bean tote for the past five years, and when she joined the co-op in 2017 it became her go-to for grocery shopping. “I’m always doing a big shop at the co-op, so it’s perfect for taking home a lot of stuff,” she says, of the “humongous” bag. Also, Weekly needs a bag that’s comfortable enough to hold heavier dry goods on her 20- to 30-minute walk home from the co-op, and this tote’s thick straps “can go the distance.” Like Chris Black, Weakly got her initials embroidered on the bag, which she thinks is “preppy and stupid, but also fun.”

When one of Weakly’s equally tote bag “obsessed” friends went down to Marfa a couple of years ago, she brought back this Strategist-certified status tote as a birthday present. “It reminds me of that and makes me smile,” she says, adding that the bag’s less structured, 100 percent cotton design is ideal for “carrying produce, because it’s machine washable.”

Alexandra Schwartz, a co-op member and New Yorker staff writer who wrote an article about the co-op in November 2019, says that reusable grocery bags are among her “weird obsessions.” During her seven years of membership, Schwartz has mostly used the same reusable bags, and stores them all in a “big heavy tote bag” from the Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris, where she once lived and volunteered. The tote isn’t rigid, but she says its “heft and structure” prevents boxy things — like cereal or a carton of milk — from “flopping around in a shapeless bag.” Her bag has a slightly different design printed on it, but this is the bookstore’s currently on-sale bag.

After working a volunteer shift at the co-op with fellow member Shira Entis — the designer and owner of Immodest Cotton, a local, woman-run bags and accessories business — the Strategist’s associate director of audience growth Stephanie Downes was inspired to buy the brand’s East-West tote in mustard. In the before times she used it to lug items home from the co-op and to the office, since “the outside leather pocket makes it slightly nicer,” says Downes, who also appreciates that the bag’s thick leather straps “don’t dig into your shoulders.” Although she usually uses a plastic bag from L-Train Vintage when shopping “grosser” items, like raw chicken, Downes once spilled salad dressing on the East-West tote and says that “after scrubbing it at home it dried perfectly.”

Best non-canvas grocery bags

Several co-op members recommended packing liquid or wet groceries in a non-canvas bag, like one made of polypropylene or Tyvek, either of which can easily be wiped down if there’s a spill. Schwartz uses this water resistant bag from the New York Review of Books — which she took from the office during her stint as a “heinously underpaid editorial assistant” — on rainy days. In addition to its weatherproof design, which she agrees comes in handy in the case of spills, Schwartz likes the bag’s smaller internal pocket: “One situation that many shoppers find themselves in is digging for the thing you need at the bottom of your bag, and this way I avoid that by sticking my shopping list and phone in the pocket.”

“I’m from the Upper West Side, and I like to have a little mélange of Zabar’s in the Park Slope Food Co-op,” says Schwartz, who uses this insulated cooler-bag while shopping for frozen goods, including her Thanksgiving turkey, which she once transported from the co-op to Massachusetts in this tote.

Strategist writer and co-op member of about two years Liza Corsillo also shops with totes from other grocery stores — specifically canvas bags from the Great Barrington Food Co-op and Hawthorne Valley Farm Store — but she also brings a Trader Joe’s tote on occasion. She says the durable, square-shaped bag is particularly useful for “loading groceries because you can build a base and make everything Tetris up nicely.”

Humberto Leon, a four-year co-op member and co-founder of Opening Ceremony, regularly loads 35 to 40 pounds of groceries in his brand’s giant tote, since it has extra-durable handles that are attached “with an ex-stitch, which adds to the sturdiness. I know it won’t rip, which is security you can’t buy,” he says. In the wake of Opening Ceremony’s closing and the latest Zizmorcore trend, the brand’s classic plaid striped tote is out of stock across the web, but there are clear and black ones still sold on their site. Leon also shops with a Pearl River Mart square-based Tyvek bag that “perfectly fits three cartons of milk or orange juice,” and the padded to-go bags distributed by his favorite dim sum restaurant Park Asia.

Best backpacks and carts for your groceries