02 June 2011

Re-usable Veggie Bags

On a Thursday I take Mum to do her errands, the shopping, bill paying, doctor's visits etc that she has and today was no different, except that it's Zero Waste Month.  I was busy telling her all about my latest challenge to Cheapskaters, explaining how much food is waste each year and how that means that money is just thrown in the bin.

Millions of Australians are working long and hard to earn that money and then it is just dumped, put into landfill to decompose and turn into greenhouse gases, adding to the pollution problems our world faces. Don't misunderstand me, I'm as fond of good food as anyone, I'm not fond of wasting money Wayne and I work hard to earn by dumping perfectly good food in the bin. And I'm certain there's not a Cheapskate on earth who would be happy with that, hence my challenge for June - zero waste.

Mum wastes very little, if anything.  Her magic touch can turn a spoonful of mashed potato, half an onion and a slice of corned beef into enough fritters to feed a family. I don't think I've ever seen my mother put food in the bin so at first this challenge seemed a little ho hum to her, not much of a challenge.

As we were walking around the supermarket and I kept telling her how exciting it would be if every Cheapskates Club member had an empty garbage bin next week, and how much money that would save them, she decided to join us!  I'm thrilled to bits because I know she'll go bowling and swimming and to the club and talk about Zero Waste Month to all her friends and who knows, it could grow like Topsy!

Today was another lovely day, sunny and warm so we ditched the supermarket and headed off to a local orchard to do the fruit and veg shopping. Mum's been buying from this orchard for years, since I was a little girl so she was pleased to be able to visit them again.

They were doing a roaring trade, mind you with beautiful pink lady apples for just 99c/kg I'd have been surprised if they weren't.  I bought 10kg and wondered if I shouldn't buy more because I know they'll disappear in double quick time.

Back in 2007 (I think, it was before Debt Free, Cashed Up and Laughing was released) I made both of us some re-usable veggie bags. I figured we were using re-usable grocery bags and they were doing a great job so having veggie bags was just an extension of that. My veggie bags live in the boot with the grocery bags, Mum's are always in her shopping bag.

As we were shopping it never occurred to us that they were odd, we've used them for so long. Then a young mum with a very cute baby in the trolley seat (yes, this orchard has trolleys) touched my shoulder and apologetically asked me where I found the bags and how much did they cost?

I quickly explained to her that we brought them with us, they weren't a new type of bag the orchard was offering.  She was curious about how much they added to the cost of the produce we were buying. They are really light, about 30g each, so they do add a little to the cost of the produce, about 5 cents or so and that's a cost that I am happy to pay to add any more plastic bags to landfill.

I gave her a two minute "how to" so she could go home and make them, reminding her to use materials she already had, which is when she said she'd have to buy some tulle. No! I suggested she zip across the road to the local op shop and pick up a $2 curtain.  Once it was washed and dried it will be perfect for veggie bags, I've used old curtain to make some of ours and they are brilliant.

And all this time her cute baby was just sitting in the trolley looking at us as we chatted. She was a beautiful little girl and so happy and curious about we grown-ups.

To cut a long story short, well maybe,  that experience had me thing that perhaps it was time, especially as this is Zero Waste Month, to revisit homemade veggie bags.

Most of us have accepted re-usable grocery bags. I'm sure there's very few households in Australia today that don't have at least one "green" bag stashed somewhere. We have dozens of them. I keep the ones for grocery shopping in the boot. Then there are the ones in the laundry cupboard for taking on picnics, carrying library books, taking things to the op shop etc.  We don't even think about them anymore, it's become habit to use them.

And so it has for me with the veggie bags.  This year I'm not shopping too often at the greengrocers or market but they are there for when I do buy potatoes or onions or really nice, cheap apples.   Every plastic bag I don't take is a plastic bag that's not going to end up at the tip. Even re-using plastic bags for lunches or rubbish or to store other things, they will eventually end up in landfill.

I made my first bags out of  white tulle that was leftover from a birthday party. They were my trial run and I'm still using them. The next lot I made out of an old net curtain and they are perfect for soft fruits and vegetables, the tulle can be a little rough.

They're just a simple bag, I measured off a fruit shop bag, with a casing at the top. I ran ribbon through the casing so I can close the bags, sometimes I do, sometimes I don't but the option is there. They cost me nothing but an hour or so at the sewing machine. I recycled materials I already had.  If you don't have netting or ribbon in the house, I suggest you pay a visit to your local op shop, just as I told Diana to. You'll pick up a net curtain for a couple of dollars, they may even have ribbon or twine you can use in the casing.

Here's how to make a veggie bag:

You will need:
Sheer, light weight fabric measuring 70cm x 50cm – use light tulle, lightweight curtains, nylon etc
1.5 metres of ribbon or strong twine

· Cut the tulle/curtain/netting into a rectangle measuring approximately 70cm x 50cm
· Fold in half widthways – your rectangle should measure 35cm x 50cm
· Measure down 2.5cm from top edge on both sides and mark with a pin
· Stitch down first side, starting at pin, and along the bottom to the fold.
· Turn bag inside out.
· Starting at the pin, stitch around the bag again, this time along the seam. This will strengthen the seams and make the bag a little stronger.
· Make the casing for the ribbon by turning the top edge down 2.5cm and stitching in place.
· This makes a casing on the top of the bag.
· Thread the ribbon through the casing, leaving a length at each end. Knot the ends together. To close the bag, pull up the ribbon and tie a slip knot.

This makes a bag a little larger than a large plastic veggie bag, perfect for family sized quantities of fruit and vegetables.

You can download the Tip Sheet from the Printables page in the Member's Centre.


  1. My mom was a very frugal person. She re-used bread bags all the time. She had a drawer in the kitchen for that purpose. When she gave me leftovers to take home she'd pull out one of those bags.

    I do the same myself today.

  2. I re-use cloth 5 kg. rice bags that you buy rice in from the supermarket and Asian stores. Some even have zips at the top.
    Also many grocery products come in the resealable plastic bags much stronger than those you buy and have a pleated bottom that even helps them stand up.There are so many uses for these even as wash bags for your smalls in the washing machine.

  3. oops I meant of course the cloth bags in the washing machine !

  4. Great idea I'm going to add these to the Xmas hampers I'm doing this year. All handmade goods.

  5. This week I found out Tahiti has reusable produce bags, get with it Australia http://www.tahiti-infos.com/Apres-les-sacs-de-courses-reutilisables-voici-venus-les-sacs-de-fruits-et-legumes-reutilisables_a134316.html


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