Natural and Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Bags

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Natural alternatives to plastic bags
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In the last few years, I’ve become increasingly concerned about all of the environmental and health problems associated with our massive plastic use in the developed world. Recent research has raised awareness about BPA (Bisphenol-A), and many people have started avoiding this particular plastic chemical, but many everyday products still contain BPA or other replacement chemicals that may not be any safer.

What’s the Big Deal with Plastics?

Plastic has become such a part of our daily lives that it can be difficult to even think of trying to remove it completely, but there are some really compelling reasons to make the switch:

  • Plastics contain endocrine disruptors linked to hormone problems and they can be especially harmful to our children (which is scary since many kid-specific foods and most toys are plastic).
  • Plastic chemicals have been linked to obesity and infertility.
  • The chemicals in plastics have thoroughly polluted our environment, especially oceans. This damage may already be irreversible and is still increasing! If your health isn’t a big enough motivator, consider that plastic chemicals have been found under 20 feet of ice in the antarctic (where there is no human habitation or waste) and that many animal species are also being affected by our plastic waste.

Plastic Bags are a Big Source of Pollution

Most plastics contain some type of harmful chemical, but plastic bags are one of the worst offenders. Not only do we collectively use and discard over 1 TRILLION plastic bags each year, these bags take 1000 years to full degrade, releasing chemicals the entire time. On top of that, plastic bags are the second most common ocean waste (after cigarette butts) and they harm thousands of species of ocean wildlife each year (with an estimated 40,000+ pieces of plastic floating in each square mile of the ocean!).

Concerned yet? I hope so.

This is one aspect of health and environmental concern that I am very passionate about and one area that we can all make a small difference in by making some simple household switches. Choosing eco-friendly and natural alternatives is more expensive in the short term, as it is hard to beat the price of a $0.10 Ziploc bag, but over the long run, alternatives can save money and help your family avoid chemicals that may be messing with your hormones!

The long-term environmental impact is just as important with the rapid rate we are contributing plastic waste to our landfills and oceans.

For the sake of your family and our planet, please consider finding alternatives to plastic bags in your home. It is easier than you think!

Alternatives to Plastic Sandwich Bags

The largest source of plastic exposure for many people and of plastic pollution is from plastic bags, as Ziploc type bags are often used for storage, in kitchens, and especially for packing or carrying lunches and food. This is also one of the easiest types of exposure to replace.

In Lunches

There are some great alternatives to using plastic bags in lunches. These are the ones we use:

  • Zip Top – We use these anytime we are on the road or away from the house for an extended period of time. They are made from food grade silicone and they are dishwasher safe!
  • Sandwich Wrap Placemats– These fold to hold a sandwich (or veggie slices, wraps, etc) and unfold to be a placemat.
  • Stainless Steel Lunch boxes– A favorite with my kids… these heavy duty lunch boxes are our go-to for field trips and travel. They are ideal because I can pack an entire lunch in them and use with or without the dividers.
  • Zipper Sandwich Bags– Not waterproof, but these bags are great for storing trail mix, granola, chopped veggies, plantain chips or homemade crackers.

Our kids also each have a stainless steel water bottle that they use when on field trips, camping or traveling.

For Storage

Finding alternatives for food storage can be a little trickier. Plastic gallon bags have the advantage of being very compact and freezer safe, making them ideal for freezing food. This has been the most difficult item to find replacements for and I have a mixture of containers that I use in the refrigerator and freezer. I use these containers when I bulk-prepare and bulk-cook food one day a week and it is helpful that they stack easily in the fridge and most are oven-safe for re-heating.

  • Steel Latching Containers– My favorite kitchen containers. They are refrigerator and freezer safe and really sturdy. I use these daily.
  • Glass Storage with Stainless Lids– Another great storage option that is plastic free, has a stainless lid and can be used to re-heat food in the oven.
  • Silicon Storage Bags– The closest alternative to actual plastic storage bags. I still prefer the two options above, but these are another good option.
  • Mason Jars– Great for storing liquids in the fridge and also great for pre-making salads or any type of one-dish meal that needs to be packed for use on-the-go.
  • Collapsible Silicon Storage– Also great for fridge storage (my one complaint is that they do not stack well without collapsing).

Alternatives to Plastic Grocery Bags

Grocery bags are another huge source of plastic use. Most people are familiar with reusable grocery bags but statistically, most of us are not using them. There are no excuses here… they hold groceries better than plastic bags, are easier to carry and last longer. Plus, they are inexpensive or free in most places.

These large grab bags can each replace up to 10 regular grocery bags per use (they hold 40 lbs and come in insulated versions too). One set of smaller re-usable bags can also replace a trip’s worth of plastic grocery bags and make unloading easier. There are now even heavy-duty organic cotton reusable bags available!

Feeling crafty? Make some non-sew bags out of old shirts in about ten minutes.

Produce Bags

Produce bags are also very easy to replace. You can find mesh bags with drawstrings that are perfect for produce, or make your own with some lightweight fabric.

This post has some additional ideas for reducing plastic use in the home. You’ll notice that many of the above products link to Radiant Life. This post contains more info and a list of some of my favorite products from Radiant Life.

Note: I’ll be the first to admit that plastic bags are incredibly convenient and switching to these alternatives can be a challenge. I’m certainly not perfect in this regard and still find myself using them a times. However, the more I learn the more I realize how important it is to change, so my family has made it a priority to limit our plastic usage whenever possible. If we all join together, consumer demand for low waste products will rise and companies will have to listen!

Have you found any other alternatives to plastic bags for your family? Share below!


Katie Wells Avatar

About Katie Wells

Katie Wells, CTNC, MCHC, Founder of Wellness Mama and Co-founder of Wellnesse, has a background in research, journalism, and nutrition. As a mom of six, she turned to research and took health into her own hands to find answers to her health problems. is the culmination of her thousands of hours of research and all posts are medically reviewed and verified by the Wellness Mama research team. Katie is also the author of the bestselling books The Wellness Mama Cookbook and The Wellness Mama 5-Step Lifestyle Detox.


73 responses to “Natural and Eco-Friendly Alternatives to Plastic Bags”

  1. Linda Avatar

    I am all for banning single use plastic, however, I have not seen an environmentally safe option for kitchen non-food waste and feel the issue (of plastic in the environment) will continue as we turn to the purchase of plastic garbage bags. Would like to hear other options. L

  2. Aaron Avatar

    There are multiple alternatives to shopping bags. Right now people are widely debating about plastic bags and paper bags but there are other alternatives too, like denim, canvas, cotton bags are more. These are more durable than paper bags.

  3. Bob Avatar

    The use of plastic bags is now anathema to the majority of shoppers, isn’t it time we started to encourage last use in clothing and encourage use of natural fibres such as wool or cotton

  4. lori Avatar

    I still struggle with reducing plastic – it’s not so much me, but my husband. However, that said, when we go to the grocery store – we do bring our bag (our insulated bag) of reusable bags and try hard to not use plastic. I still forget the produce bags, but will take all the produce out of the plastic as soon as we get home. As my plastic food storage containers are depleted, they don’t get replaced, unless it’s glass. My husband likes that they’re easier to clean and retains heat better, added bonus – ease of use from fridge/freezer to oven! And they don’t stink or stain!

  5. Ruth Avatar

    HI – all this info is really great- but I have one question- I had understood that silicone cookware had health risks? What are your thoughts on this? Thanks

  6. Deb Naydan Avatar
    Deb Naydan

    Wax Paper and Wax Paper Sandwich Bags are a possible option. I love the wax paper bags.

    1. DonnaB Avatar

      Just be sure to choose a waxed paper that is coated with a vegetable wax. Regular wax paper uses parrafin wax which comes from petroleum. Since petroleum is the basis for creating plastic, it would be best to avoid waxed paper with that type of wax.

  7. Martha Avatar

    Skimming the comments, I did not see “wax paper” suggested. Before we had plastic, wax paper wrapping was what Mother used for sandwiches, and for larger wraps secured with rubber bands, or cotton string. And for freezing, my mother used to use an outer layer of aluminum over the wax paper. These ideas are not as air tight but worked for generations. Am also keeping all glass jars & bottles which are great for refrigerating, but not so good freezing. And trying to use as little plastic as possible in trash by emptying plastic trash bag into paper boxes then into trash bin, and paper products not bagged.

  8. Mary Avatar

    It’s SILICONE, not silicon. Silicon is what they use in computer chips, as in “silicon valley.” And even then, there’s a question about its safety: remember silicone breast implants, and how some women claimed that when they leaked into the body, they got sick?

  9. Peter Avatar

    Cotton replacement for plastic grocery bags are an environmental disaster – It takes 1/3 lbs of pesticides to grow one pound of cotton. Cotton uses disproportionate high volumes of water to produce and requires massive amounts of fertilizers to grow a crop- The pesticides and fertilizers then leach into ground water.

      1. linda Avatar

        plus, of course, not only is cotton reusable, it is renewable too – win-win

    1. linda Avatar

      Peter I am not sure where you are getting your stats from but they seem rather out of date. The times, they are a-changing and the way that cotton is grown have changed along with them. Yes there are issues that still need to be addressed but it is nothing like the demon you paint. For example, in the US most cotton is watered by natural means thus consumes nothing more than the average rainfall. The fact that there are still issues to address are reasons to get proactive not dismissive nor to scaremonger. They are certainly no excuse to do nothing.

    2. Mary Avatar

      In 2017 cotton was still the most heavily pesticided crop in the U.S. Remember than when someone makes recommendations online, they may not have solid credentials.

  10. Juan Avatar

    Great article! Thanks for shedding light.
    I am looking for an alternative to plastic bags for thrash can at the bathroom and kitchen, in other words for disposing garbage at the house, any ideas?

    1. linda Avatar

      if you take a look around the internet you will find lots of examples for creating newspaper bin liners for dry waste. It is also compostable so great for kitchen scraps too, although it pretty much needs to be disposed of straight away because of the moisture content. Less commonly you can also find examples of it being folded to make biodegradable bags for animal waste.

  11. Asim Nadeem Avatar
    Asim Nadeem

    Around 5 billion plastic bags will be used in year 2017. It’s really scary and alarming. It’s now or never situation. A great deal I’d damage has already been done to environment. Hundreds of marine species and birds die each year. Lethal gases are released when plastic enters and resides in landfill. Human life is in danger. We have only one world to live. Let’s reduce our plastic use, starting from lesser daily dependency on plastic bags.

  12. Roderick Brown Avatar
    Roderick Brown

    I am biased but believe we have an awesome reusable bag sytstem. Get My Eco as seen on Good Morning America last week. Sold 15,000 sets n one day. It works and I am the shopping Dad n the family. Will b glad to send you a set!

  13. Vagmi Avatar

    Hi! I am based in a small North Indian town with limited options. The polythene bags for carrying curd and cheese have been banned and the poor milkmen are suffering 70% loss in the sale as the people have to bring containers from their homes to fetch curd and they’re avoiding the purchase unless it is necessary. Is there some easily available alternative to the polythene bags for carrying liquids such as curd?

    1. linda Avatar

      It really very much depends on how much curd/cheese you are likely to want to buy. It also depends on what you have readily available in your local area.
      When we used to go to the farm for milk we would take a jug with us. What came to mind when I read your question was a jam jar with a string handle (easily made at home) or inside a string or crochet bag – with a lid to stop the contents spilling both of these would make it easier to carry. But if you have string readily available it is really easy to macramé a bag that could be made to hold any household pot or basin desired – something like this Although the images all show a different sized plant pots, they do show how the knots can be tied to fit any container you could lift. And, if you have never done macramé there are videos on youtube to show you how. Anyone should be able to whip one of these up in an afternoon and still get down to the shops to buy the milk.
      If it is any consolation, people being as people are, it won’t take long for the majority to come flocking back. They just need to resolve the problem of carriage – so see that their neighbour has – and everything will be back to normal.

  14. Arfa Avatar

    I really want to support for banning plastic bag. As we all know that plastic has become such a part of our daily lives but our single try to say no to a plastic bag and switch to the Reusable eco-friendly bag. Also requesting to my friends and business network to ignore the use of plastic bag. let’s help and contribute to saving our planet.

  15. Elaina Avatar

    Just wanted to let everyone know there is another wonderful plastic-free food storage option out there that has been around for awhile, but for some reason, is not well known and difficult to find in a search. (So please spread the word!) Most of us already have pyrex containers with plastic lids in our cupboards. Pyrex has a line called Pyrex Ultimate food storage containers that have GLASS AND FOOD GRADE SILICONE LIDS = NO PLASTIC. They are non-toxic, beautiful, leakproof, oven/microwave/dishwasher safe, stack wonderfully in the fridge, nest well (glass containers only) in the cupboard, and are absolutely amazing to use! I discovered them last fall. Best of all, even though it is not listed on Pyrex’s website, you can call Pyrex’s consumer care number (1-800-999-3436 for North America) and order just the glass silicone lids to replace your existing pyrex plastic lids on certain sizes (3 round sizes and 2 rectangular sizes) which is what my family did. Also, I found that the round 2 cup sized pyrex glass silicone lids also fit my glass anchor and ziplock containers of the same size/shape! Just remember that in order to put the lids on and off easily, you do have to flip up the flexible silicone tab to create (or break) the seal. Cheers!

    Here is an Amazon link

  16. Aubrey W Avatar
    Aubrey W

    Hi, I’m currently working on my wedding registry and since my fiancé and I are living with my parents until after the wedding I have an opportunity to create a plastic free kitchen right from the start! I’ve removed all plastic and aluminum for everything that comes in contact with food except for the food saver. My fiancé has been on board with my choice of going plastic free and was willing to give up the comfort and convenience of plastic but he REALLY wants a food saver vacuum sealer. I looked into a few options and so far Sous Vide is the only vacuum sealer to claim to be bpa and phalate free. I’m hesitant because I’ve read that even these types of plastics are still dangerous. Any experience with this brand, or ideas for plastic free vacuum storage?

    1. Wellness Mama Avatar

      If I was going to get one, I’d definitely get the Sous Vide… though even though the plastics are BPA free, they can still be problematic. I have heard of using silicone reusable bags in a sous vide, so maybe that would help…

      1. Aubrey W Avatar

        Oh silicone is an interesting idea, I’ll read up on it. Thank you so much for your advice!

  17. Sofia Avatar

    I use chip bag for trash.
    Biodegradable take out food containers or coffe paper cup I use to fill up with organic disposals and then toss them into the organis collector bin. This way it saves me money because I don’t need to use as much as biodegradable bags and I repurpose every single container.

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