How ChicoBags Changed The Way I Live

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Photo: ChicoBag

Several months ago, I was walking by the new bookshelf at my local library and an interesting title caught my eye. Covered in pictures of trash, the cover of the book said Garbology. Intrigued, I picked it up to investigate further. It turns out there is a group of volunteers at the University of Washington who study trash. By studying modern waste, they hope to learn ways we can avoid being covered in garbage in the next hundred years or so. Studying trash is not as weird as you might think, considering people like my husband, an archaeologist, study the trash of ancient cultures to learn more about them. The group at UW just has to deal with a bit more smell.

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Photo: Avery Trade

I immediately checked out the book and found that I had trouble putting it down for the next few days. I learned a lot about the island of trash floating in our oceans, the ugly truth about recycling, and how trash has been managed in the United States for the last decade.

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Photo: Sierra Club

One chapter that really struck a chord with me was the discussion about plastic grocery bags. I live in a pretty forward-thinking mountain town in Colorado. I am very familiar with the folks in line at the grocery store who refuse to use plastic bags. I’ve always admired them and wished I could be so organized and socially conscious. My excuses were common. I have four kids, three of them hungry boys. I buy a lot of groceries. Could there even be enough reusable bags in the world to tackle my weekly food stash? I’d tried using canvas bags a few years ago. It always seemed like half of my cart was filled with the pile of bags. Then, I had to dig them out once we got to the check out. Slowly my handy canvas bags were used for other purposes and disappeared from my van. Without really realizing it, I slid back into our “plastic bag only” way of life.

I was once again inspired when I read the chapter in Garbology about plastic bags. It covered how they are not as recycled as people would like to pretend. It also talked about how many times the displays at the grocery stores, where you can bring back your bags to be recycled, don’t really make it to recycling centers, and end up in the landfill anyway. And it also dissected how it’s much harder to truly recycle a plastic bag than it is things like glass bottles and metal objects. I could spend all day tracking down articles that prove the above facts to be true or false, but either way, I figured that giving the reusable bag habit another try could only be a positive change for our family and for the environment.

One of the companies mentioned in the book was ChicoBag. About a decade ago, a guy named Andy Keller stopped by his local landfill to drop off some landscaping waste. He was amazed to see so much plastic floating around in the air, as discarded grocery bags escaped from the trash heap and caught the breeze. On the drive home, he noticed more bags, stuck on fence posts, and caught in tree limbs. He immediately decided that he needed to do something that would make taking reusable bags easier to work into our everyday lives. The story involves some sewing attempts on a secondhand machine and a lot of redesigning. Keller knew the bag had to be easy to haul around, yet sturdy and useful.

In the end, he created a company called ChicoBags, which is now one of the top producers of reusable bags, grocery and otherwise.

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Photo: ChicoBag

Immediately after reading about the company in Garbology, I emailed ChicoBags. I told them my situation. I challenged them to convince me, the mom to four hungry teen children, that I could make reusable bags work in our lifestyle. Fortunately, they accepted my challenge and a week later, a box arrived in the mail. We unpacked the wide assortment of styles that we’d been sent and discussed how, as a family, we were going to make a big change. It might be a bit rocky at first, as old habits are hard to break, but it would be worth it in the long run. Now that we had the supplies, we had no excuse.

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Photo: Judy Berna

That was several months ago. I was supposed to give it a month’s challenge, then report back to ChicoBags and to our readers. But, as is common, life happened instead. We had some pretty major family health issues and a few major summer trips. The whole time, we were consistently using our ChicoBags and I was making mental notes that I really—I mean really—needed to get this post written.

This is what I found out: When I finally got serious about almost completely ceasing my plastic bag use, when the right product is around, the change becomes easy.

One of the selling features of the ChicoBag and the reason I have fallen in love with them, is the fact that they fold up into teeny tiny bags that are easy to have around. At any given time, I have one or two in the bottom of my purse, for those last-minute stops at the drug store or quick stop. Here are some pictures of one of my favorite styles, The Micro. It’s literally about the size of an egg, but unfolds into a decent-sized bag, that is strong enough to hold a bowling ball.

No kidding.

It’s super easy to have these everywhere, in my glove box, on the key chain, in my purse, or in my son’s backpack. They would take up almost no room in a diaper bag and could be used for anything a plastic bag can be used for. In fact, I might click over and purchase some more of these little guys, as they are one of the key reasons I can truly give up plastic bags.

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The close second for my favorite design is the Original ChicoBag. It stuffs into a pouch the size of my palm and has a caribeener so I can clip it to my purse or my kid’s backpack. Unfolded, it can hold up to 25 pounds. It comes in 10 different colors and retails for six bucks. This is the bag to stock up on if you feel the need to use less plastic at the grocery store.

I’ve done canvas bags in the past. They were hardy and reusable, yes. But even after complicated folding efforts, they took up a lot of space… in my van and in the grocery cart. My new routine involves grabbing the one “opened” bag I have, that is filled with the compressed bags, and heading to the store. It takes seconds to open up the number of bags I need at the check out. The ones I dont need stay nice and tidy in their little zipped up pouches. Because the fabric is so incredibly light, it takes mere seconds to stuff the bags back in their pouches once the groceries are neatly stacked in my home pantry. In fact, I can see a preschooler or young school-aged child having fun with the job of making the big bags small again. Drop them back in the “carrier” bag and you are ready for the next shopping trip. It’s really that easy.

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Photo: ChicoBag
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Photo: Judy Berna
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Photo: Judy Berna

This is what our life looks like now: On the coat hooks by the door, there’s one large ChicoBag that has assorted folded up bags inside. If I’m going to the library to return books, I grab the size bag I need, unfold it, and fill it up. If I’m going to the grocery store, I grab the whole bag and put it in the baby seat part of the cart, right next to my purse. No digging around for my reusable bags when it’s time to unload a full cart onto the conveyor belt. I even have an assortment of produce bags that are vented and washable, so I can say goodbye to the plastic bags in the produce aisle too. In the picture above, you can see the produce bags and the sandwich/lunchbox bags, which can fold to two different sizes.

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Photo: ChicoBag

I love that all of the bags are hardy, made from recycled materials, and come in minimal packaging that is mostly cardboard, headed to the recycle bin. The company has many other types and styles of bags, from bags you can travel with to many fun fashion bags. Their website will suck you in and teach you about the environment, while offering you an amazing assortment of options if you’d like to give up the plastic habit.

I never thought I’d be one of those people who was dedicated enough to totally swear off the plastic grocery bags. They were just too convenient and it was too easy to just forget about them once I’d thrown them in that recycle bin at the grocery store. But I’m now a happy convert. I use my variety of ChicoBags because they are easy and convenient. The fact that they happen to help my carbon footprint is just a bonus.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.