Plastic packed food & storage times

This post does not deal with using plastic to protect food in transit rather than the plastic used to pre-package food for sale in stores.

Plastic is used to pack food for a number of reasons. The most simple are

  • to contain it – to stop it falling about
  • protect it from bruising
  • wrapping products in plastic reduces moisture loss which helps to keep certain veg fresh for much longer and so prolongs shelf life. This type of packaging is used for root vegetables and cucumbers. 

However plastic packaging can be far more sophisticated then that.

Modified Atmosphere Packaging

Wikipedia defines this as  the “Re-balancing of gases inside the packaging can be achieved using active techniques such as gas flushing and compensated vacuum or passively by designing “breathable” films known as equilibrium modified atmosphere packaging (EMAP).”

Heres a bit more on these processes

Gas flushing and compensated vacuum techniques

This massively extends the shelf life of fresh food products. Here products are enclosed in a plastic container (the packaging), then the air inside the pack is changed (the modified atmosphere). Basically they actively suck out the oxygen and shove in a gas (you may need to look up those technical terms).
The modification process varies depending on the product. Different amounts of oxygen will be needed and the gas composition will change depending on the food being packed. Red meat needs high oxygen to maintain the red color, bread requires low oxygen to avoid mould and vegetables often need a three-gas mixture. Yum!
A wide variety of products are gas flushed including

  • Fresh meat /
    Processed meat /
    Cheese /
    Milk powder
    Fresh pasta / Fruit & Vegetables / Ready Meals
    Case ready meat / Fresh poultry / Fish & Seafood

Is it Safe? You might want to consider this

The Committee therefore concluded that there is no health concern associated with the use of 0.3%-0.5% CO in a gas mixture with CO2 and N2 as a modified atmosphere packaging gas for fresh meat provided the temperature during storage and transport does not exceed 4°C. However the Committee wishes to point out that, should products be stored under inappropriate conditions, the presence of CO may mask visual evidence of spoilage.

Specially Designed Films

Specially designed plastic films and bags can be used to modify the atmosphere round the product are used. One example is;
PrimePro® is a packaging technology designed to extend the shelf life of fresh fruits and vegetables. It extends shelf life by removing ethylene gas, a powerful plant hormone that triggers the process of ripening and decay.
PrimePro® is a polyethylene plastic film contains a proprietary additive that is specially designed to remove ethylene from the air around fresh produce.”

Breathable plastics

Unlike most food products, fresh fruits and vegetables continue to respire after they have been harvested. They need some oxygen and will continue to  produce carbon dioxide and water vapor. Packaging here has to allow for this. It has to be breathable. There are plastic films that can accommodate that process.

Vacuum packing

This process removes all the oxygen before sealing the plastic container. Here the non breathable impermeable plastic is shrink fitted to the product thereby allowing no contact with the oxygen in the air around it.

Reduction In Food Waste

Plastic packed food means that food can be stored for longer which should reduce food waste. This is often used to justify plastic packaging.

Plastic wrapped food certainly benefits the retailer as it lasts considerably longer on the supermarket shelves giving them a longer sales time. The producers and importers of pre packaged food also benefit from this increased timescale to sell their food.

And yet somehow it hasn’t cut food waste. In fact as a food waste preventive measure it seems remarkably ineffective. For example

“UK retailers and wholesalers are still wasting around 200,000 tonnes of food each year, and when their supply chains are factored in this figure rises to over 4,000,000 tonnes annually.”


“Supermarket giant Tesco has revealed it generated almost 30,000 tonnes of food waste in the first six months of 2013. Using its own data and industry-wide figures, it also estimated that across the UK food industry as a whole, 68% of salad to be sold in bags was wasted – 35% of it thrown out by customers.

Plastic Waste

Of course it rather depends on what you do with food waste and how you define it. If you compost it you return those nutrients to the soil and they are then used to sustain more plants. If you feed it to animals it can be used to make bacon. In fact calling it waste is really rather misleading. It is a resource and is often used as such.

Food waste is biodegradable, plastic waste is not. Food waste can be dealt with locally and if dealt with properly is a resource rather than a waste product. At worst if littered round the environment it will rot away. Plastic waste has to be specially disposed of at proper facilities. If not it will end up as permanent litter.

And thanks to food packaging there is an awful lot of it.

11% of household waste is plastic, 40% of which is plastic bottles, during 2002 plastic bottles worth around £27 million were disposed of at a cost of £45 million

In the UK  Waste on line, another government agency, are keen to tell us that we generate 3 million tonnes of plastic waste annually 56% of which is used packaging, three-quarters of which is from households. They estimated that only 7% of total plastic waste is currently being recycled. How Big Is Your Pile

Just A Different Kind Of Waste

Creating a huge pile of plastic waste to prevent food waste does not resolve the waste problem.. It merely shifts it to a different sector.

Packaging & Pre-Portioning

One response to the salad fiasco was to suggest making smaller bags of salad. This is of course another issue with prepackaged food. You can only buy what is there not what you want. Over purchasing obviously leads to increased food waste but is sometimes almost unavoidable. If you only want one pepper buying a three pack is unnecessary and despite good intentions often leads to food waste

Waste & The Consumer

Waste in the home is the responsibility of the purchaser. For sure a wrapped sealed product will last longer but one assumes fresh food was bought to be eaten within a fairly short time scale so the benefits of packaging, in that sense at least, are not so great.

A WRAP report into the subject claims that consumers do not understand how to use packaging specially designed to reduce waste any way. However more education on the subject could help. They also have some interesting observations on consumer attitudes to packaging. See their report Consumer attitudes to food waste and packaging

And we are still throwing away huge amounts and food plus huge amounts of plastic packaging.

Food Safety

Packed food is safer food. Yes, but food can still be stored and kept safely without plastic packaging. Plus There is a considerable body of evidence that chemicals leach from the plastic packaging into the food. Some claim the chemicals in plastic can have adverse effects on health.

There is a consensus of opinion, (though sadly not so much in the way of hard facts), that fruit and vegetables start to loose nutrients once harvested. Plastic packaging certainly slows down the aging process wether it slows down nutrient loss is less clear. But all advice seems to be eat your fruit and veg as fresh as possible. Plastic packaging means you don’t know how old that cucumber is. Wether that is relevant or not I cannot say but s the Committee points out when discussing gas flushing for meat, that unless the meat is stored properly, the presence of CO may mask visual evidence of spoilage.


The issues of food waste, the convenience of pre-packaged, longer-lasting food have to be weighed against environmental costs of plastic; the savings made by being able to store food for longer against the clean up costs for plastic. Bearing in mind that much of the latter is not paid for by the producers  but by the end consumer. The supermarket/producer does not pay for the disposal of the plastic wrapper, street cleaning or for the environmental damage it causes when it flies into the canal.

  • It uses a lot of resources to plastic wrap food.
  • While it might reduce food waste (debateable), it means a huge increase in plastic waste.
  • Food waste is biodegradable. Plastic waste is not.
  • Plastic rubbish goes on to pollute the environment in many ways.
  • It costs a lot of money to treat plastic waste and a lot of plastic waste is food packaging.
  • Pre-portioning can actually increase food waste
  • There are many hundreds of different plastic used to package food. Many of them are difficult to recycle.
  • There is a considerable body of evidence that chemicals leach from the plastic packaging into the food. Some claim the chemicals in plastic can have adverse effects on health.
  • You don’t know how old that fruit is. Gas flushing might disguise food rot.

I feel that plastic packing benefits the producers and retailers more than the consumer and the environment. Personally I prefer buying seasonally grown, unpacked food  from local suppliers, only buying what you need and eating it as quickly as possible.

Why package produce




Wrapping paper you can plant

I love this idea – wrapping paper you can plant. The following is taken from the sales blurb…

“Eden’s Paper is 100% plantable wrapping paper. It’s a gift within a gift! So, instead of throwing your wrapping paper in the bin, you can now plant it to grow things like veg, herbs or flowers!

Once the paper has been planted in the soil, the paper immediately begins to biodegrade leaving the seeds to grow into champion veg or flowers.

  • 3 pack includes: 1 x Broccoli, 1 x Carrot, 1 x Tomato
  • 5 pack includes: 1 x Broccoli, 1 x Carrot, 1 x Tomato, 1 x Beetroot, 1 x Bell Pepper
  • They also do flowers – great for mothers day!

Our paper is made from 100% recycled paper. The seeds are embedded on the back of the wrapping paper in seven layers of biodegradable tissue paper. The wrapping paper and tissue paper layers use no glues to hold them together, as glues are harmful to the soil.


Read more and buy here


Don’t forget to use biodegradable sticky tape ( and that’s not, despite what you may have been told), Sellotape.

Not got a garden? Then try these other zero waste and / or environmental wrapping options.


Sticky Tape

Sellotape gets right up my nose. Everything biodegradable on my presents except for that sticky little glistening strip. Now some of you may be thinking chill, Sellotape is cellophane and therefore biodegradable. To which I will waspishly reply
“NO! I checked it out.” I wrote to Sellotape and they said they now only used plastic to make their tapes.
You might think masking tape being made of paper could be used instead but the adhesives often contain synthetic chemicals.

Here are some compostable, biodegradable and recyclable paper tapes with better glues.


These guys make tape – lots of it and they have a biodegradable option. I have not bought for them and the following was taken from the website. 
Paper ecoLogois an eco-friendly packaging tape. It is not only made of unbleached paper with a high content of recycled fibres. It also features a solvent-free adhesive free from any toxic chemicals. The tape is ideal for sealing shipping cartons. It allows easy tearing by hand, but proves to be sturdy and reliable, as soon as it is applied to a carton, parcel or envelope. Use it as a universal packaging tape for same-material carton sealing and packaging.

  • 60% bio-based packaging tape
  • Strong backing made from unbleached paper
  • Core made from 100% recycled cardboard
  • Contour cuff made from 80% recycled cardboard
  • Solvent-free adhesive
  • Good sealing security
  • Hand-tearable
  • Suitable for use with all tesapack® hand dispensers


Brown Kraft Tape labels

I have used this self adhesive packaging tape. It is paper based and has a silicone free backing and is 100% recyclable and it is claimed biodegradable. It is  used by professional graphic and art houses for the mounting of pictures and photographs during framing.It comes on cardboard rolls and you can get it in all different widths.

It works really well and sticks to just about everything. You can use it with gift wrap for presents, (read more here), but I have also sent it through the post on parcels and it has remained secure. Plus it is great for labelling stuff. Sticks to glass for a surprisingly long time – even in damp conditions.


I can only buy this on line and it sometimes come packed in plastic. Check with the supplier.
Tapes Direct sell it and  I got some from Ebay.

Green Stationary
This online company also sell a biodegradable tape. Here is the blurb
“Eco paper packing tape, 50 metre long rolls of 50mm wide parcel packing tape made from brown 100% recycled paper, with a latex-based adhesive – a totally biodegradable tape to seal your parcels.  Hi tac gives strong adhesion to boxes and cartons. Sold individually, this product has a matt finish.”
I have to bought from them so I don’t know what the onward packaging is like…….

And of course…


Being committed to local shopping, I prefer to buy that way whenever possible. I would encourage you to do the same. One of the joys of living plastic free is mooching round the local shops seeing what you can source.

If you can’t buy local please do check the links above to the suppliers and buy direct from them and support their online businesses.

If you can’t do that then I have put together and Amazon catalogue. Yes I know…

50mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Backing Tape 50m Roll 60 gsm Eco 15 75mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Backing Tape 50m Roll 60 gsm Eco 15 25mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Backing Tape 50m Roll 60 gsm Eco 15
50mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Back…
75mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Back…
25mm Brown Self Adhesive Picture Frame Back…
Amazon is a very dirty word at the moment and I thought long and hard before suggesting them.  Heres why I went ahead….. No we are not entirely happy with Amazons recent history. However, we have always found their service to be good and their packaging usually compostable.

If you buy a product via this link we do get an affiliation fee for this. This is not why we do it.




Produce Bags Cotton From Spain

I have been using cotton produce bags for years now. I buy my food loose and unpackaged and these bags are fantastic for everything from bread to rice to beans, (you can check out a range of loose food here).

I cannot say how many flimsy plastic produce bags I have saved from landfill but it has to be thousands. From that point alone I am extremely pleased with them. But there is one problem – until now I have had to buy my cotton bags from America. This has a number of downsides.The first is obviously air miles, the other is import tax. I had to pay £16.00 on £45.00 worth of goods from America.

There are UK suppliers but their produce bags are made from synthetic fibres and I don’t like them as much as the cotton.

So thank you then Spanish based Co/Fo who  sell produce bags made from 100% organic cotton bags. OK still not UK but considerably closer, no pesky import tax and the bags are absolutely lovely.

They are  well made, in a range of handy sizes packed in beautifully design, printed carry cases, (printed with 100% water based, non toxic ink).

The smaller bags have a metal toggle closure, the larger have a draw string.

They all have tags with the weight of the bag clearly marked so you can ask for it to be subtracted from the total weight of your purchases.

Check out the range

CO/FO Fruit and Vegetable bags.
Set of 4 Fruit and Vegetable bags and 1 cotton carrier/storage case.

Drawstring bag
Individual bag size: 30 x 35cm
Tare weight: 30 grams

Grains, Rice & Bean Bags
Set of 4 bags stored in a cotton carrier case. Individual bag size: 20 x 30
Tare weight: 20 grams
Metal closure keeps bag sealed tight, not letting any items escape.
Label loop allows you to hold the bag easily.

grains-bag-510x652Nuts & Dried Fruit bags / Set of 4
A Set of four 100% Organic Cotton bags for your dried fruits, nuts, candy and more…

Individual bag size: 17 x 20 cm
Tare weight: 15 grams



Extra Large CO/FO Bread bag with drawstring closure.

Set comes with two different bags – A large bag for bread loafs, potatoes or large vegetables, and one long baguette bag that easily fits 2 french baguettes.

Carrier Bag

backbag-510x652And you can take all your shopping home in their great shopper that waxes lyrical about the joys of shopping fresh, the smell of crusty bread and other delights. I was carrying a weeks worth of baked beans in mine but still…..

Mission Statement

But they are not just pretty bags, Co/Fo have a mission.
In their own words……
Based in Barcelona, CO/FO is the brainchild of Tina Ziegler and was created in response to the urgent need to raise awareness about plastic pollution while drawing attention to our daily habits that collectively form part of the global environmental problem.
As part of this they run various projects including the great plastic of our lives, a collection of photos of people and their trash – a weeks worth of plastic that is.

If you want to get yourself some good-looking, reusable produce bags and do your bit in the battle, go to the Co/Fo store

You can read up about other kinds of produce bags here

And loads of other ways to wrap it up, plastic free right here


Vegware Fast Food Packaging

A while ago I got sent some Vegware stuff to review. Vegware make disposable compostable packaging for the fast food industry. Hooray for them …. but I am not in fast food. So what would I be using them for? For starters…


OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWell, I take my own PLA compostable plastic deli pots to the supermarket when I need olives and humus and the like. PLA plastic looks and acts just like plastic but is made from corn starch rather than oil. Not only is this a renewable resource, it is also compostable  and, as Vegware say,”This annually-renewable eco-material has a carbon footprint 78% lower in manufacture than oil-based PET plastic, and these carbon savings are reflected in our Eco Audits.”

I can confirm that Vegware PLA pots are just as good. for shopping. They sent me a great range of shapes and sizes so I was able to expand my experience – even venturing into the ready-made salad bar at Morrisons. I have never done that as I have never had a PLA pot big enough!

The only thing I cannot find a use for is the flat black trays but that is probably because I don’t sell salami.

Because you cannot wash PLA in really hot water,(it melts), I use a new PLA pot every time I go shopping. However I reuse the old ones to freeze food I know I am going to heat up hot. The Vegware rectangular dishes are great for storing decent size portions in the freezer.

The PLA pots end up in my compost bin. Many folk say that you can only compost PLA in industrial composting facilities. I manage just fine with my back yard bin!

But if for some reason you cannot compost PLA pots yourself, Vegware do a great alternative – paper / PLA lined pots. These are not nearly as long-lasting and can only be used once in the freezer . Basically they  fall apart much more quickly.

I cannot see anyone having a problem with composting these.



Paper/PLA lined cups and pots

I also got sent a whole load of paper tubs and cups with compostable, plastic liners with compostable sippy lids and some with built-in heat shields so you don’t burn your hands. If you have a takeaway service these would be great. Also good for parties,

I don’t entertain like that but I do make lots of home-made beauty products. These are great for samples and super useful for presents.

You know how it is you forgot Valentines day again but lucky you have a cupboard full of Shea Butter, essential oils and cocoa.

In no time at all you have whipped up a sensuous chocolate body mousse from your 91/2 weeks range. Grab a vegware paper pot and a felt tip and you have a personalised gift. For sure the drawings could have been better but I only had a Sharpy and a highlighter pen. Needs must….

You can see more on chocolate love mousse soon

 Bags, sheets and wrappings

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI also got sent a load of bags and wrappings. I am a big fan of taking my own bags shopping. It is the only way you can really shop plastic free. However,  I was so impressed with the gift potential of Vegware products, I have used the bags for other things. The last few days has seen me experimenting with wrapping and passing on all manner of things to surprised recipients.

For instance I bought a block of solid shampoo. It works pretty well but tends to be a bit sweaty. If you cut it and  leave it overnight it oozes and sticks so you cannot wrap it in normal paper. Hurrah for Vegware, shiny, plasticky see through bags.The brown greaseproof paper (?) is pretty good too.

My moisturising rose and lavender salt scrub is oily and moist but can be packed in the paper and PLA bag and safely left.


Finally that is a crystal rock deodorant in the see through bag – just because I can!


The brown Kraft carrier bags are just cute and make super quick wrapping / sweet gift bags. Again, the artistically inclined could personalise these.

More ideas to follow but if you feel inspired, you can check out the Vegware range here  range of fantastic products here….



PLA plastic products we use

One type of compostable plastic is made from  Poly Lactic Acid (PLA) Read more about compostable plastics here

Composting PLA Plastic At Home
While most agree that PLA plastic is indeed compostable (certified), many say that it can only composted in large scale municipal schemes. As we don’t have many large scale municipal schemes this they say is a pointless advantage.I say the days of large scale municipal schemes is fast approaching as governments aim to divert biodegradable rubbish from landfill sites.
AND I have been composting my PLA plastic for years in my Green Johanna compost bin.
It does take longer than other products and  sometimes I have found shreds of it in my compost but I dig it into the soil where it quickly disappears.
We have used and composted the following PLA plastic products.
PLA Compostable Plastic Bags
Fish in a biobag
These disposable, water-resistant bags are great for
fish and meat
Frozen foodstuffs and freezer bags.


Deli pots
Waterproof plastic pots with lids are great for all manner of deli delights including
Cream cheese
Deli counter lovelies
They can also be used to storefood in the freezer.

Disposable Cutlery  for  our big party

We haven’t used these but sourced them FYI

Dog poo bags


Remember, not all bio- plastics can be composted and some are not as green as they sound

Find out more about composting here


How to buy food plastic free

If you want to  shop plastic-free then you need to take your own packaging. Seems like a lot of bother? Well, here are  some reasons why you might wish to consider this option:
You don’t like that hormone inhibitors and toxic chemicals can leach from plastic packaging into your food,
You hate plastic pollution,

You love being zero waste

You find a place that sells your required product unwrapped. This can be  anywhere from your local butcher to the cheese counter at Morrisons.
You take your own packaging and ask them use that. Bit embarrassing at first but stick with it – I do it everywhere.


These are reusable bags that can be used instead of the plastic bags supplied by shops. Use them for veges, and anything else loose and dry,
I use a cotton or net produce bags.
Find out more about
 synthetic mesh bags
organic cotton produce bags


For meat, fish and other stuff I try to use a reusable plastic tub whenever can.Which means I take my own tub to the butchers and ask them to use that. I use a plastic tub because it is water proof, lightweight, I have had it for ages and there is lots of wear in it yet.

If you are worried about chemical leaching you might not want to use plastic tubs. As you know if you wash plastic at hot enough temperatures to clean the container properly, it is more likely to leach chemicals. And that plastic leaches more chemicals as it ages.

If this worries you can get metal or glass dishes. Glass is heavy so I would recommend metal dishes.

And some times, it doesn’t matter what I take, I get refusals. Supermarkets especially are not keen on this and will argue long and hard. Even some local butchers will refuse.,  in which case I use…..


The following products are certified compostable and I compost them at home in my bin once I have done with them. They can also be safely burnt.

For meat and fish I use bio plastic  (corn starch bags – made from vegetables) 

For cheese and such like its old school paper bags.

At the deli counter  where I get humus, pate and the rest, I use these compostable PLA pots.


Though I recommend finding reuses for your disposable packaging, (for example using the bio bags to line your compost bin),they are of course disposable. This  might not sound like the greenest option but it is still a whole load better than plastic.


What is compostable? To be classed compostable, items must biodegrade within a certain time (around the rate at which paper biodegrades), and the resulting biomass must be free of toxins, able to sustain plant life and be used as an organic fertilizer or soil additive. For a man-made product to be sold as compostable, it has to meet certain standards. One such is the European Norm EN13432. You can find out more here.

Taking it home 

Carry your shopping home in  a reusable  carrier bag – natch!

My bags of choice are those old granny favourites, string bags.

I also have some tiny fold up carrier bags which come in very handy.


Though I recommend finding reuses for your disposable packaging, (for example using the bio bags to line your compost bin),they are of course disposable. This  might not sound like the greenest option but it is still a whole load better than plastic.

I compost all this packaging in my own compost bin. Yes even the cornstarch plastic bags and pots.

Loose Food A to Z

Find out if a shop near you sells bulk food loose. This is stuff that that normally comes plastic packaged ie rice, pasta and salt. And yes these shops do exist in the U.K. There’s just not many of them. Heres a list of towns with shops selling loose food,  organised alphabetically.

Buy Packaging

Being committed to local shopping, I prefer to buy that way whenever possible. I would encourage you to do the same. One of the joys of living plastic free is mooching round the local shops seeing what you can source. If you can’t buy local please do check the links above to the suppliers and buy direct from them and support their online businesses.

If you can’t do that then I have put together and Amazon catalogue. Yes I know…

flip & tumble Reusable Produce Bags- 5-PackEco-Bags Products, Produce & Bulk Bags, 3 BagsEco Bags String Tote Bag Long Handle Cotton Assorted Earthtones, ctWhite Reusable Muslin Bags with Draw String for Spice, Herbs, Tea, Mulled Wine, Bouquet Garni Infuser Sieve - 3" x 3.5" (10 pcs)5 Litre x 180 bags Compostable Bags - Biobag Kitchen Food Waste Caddy Liners 5 Litre - EN 13432 - Biobags 5L Bin Bags with Composting Guide6 Litre x 150 bags allBIO 6 Litre 100% Biodegradable & Compostable Kitchen Caddy Liners25ml Clear Biodegradable PLA Pots with Lids x 50 (Food/Craft/Storage Containers)

Amazon is a very dirty word at the moment and I thought long and hard before suggesting them.  Heres why I went ahead….. No we are not entirely happy with Amazons recent history. However, we have always found their service to be good and their packaging usually compostable.

If you buy a product via this link we do get an affiliation fee for this. This is not why we do it.



Paper Bags

If you want to buy plastic free food you really need to supply your own packaging. This will open up a massive range of plastic free options. It will also help you avoid the hormone inhibitors and toxic chemicals that leach from plastic packaging into your food.

Sometimes you need a disposable bag, one that can be composted or burnt when done.

I use brown Kraft food grade bags.

They are great for
Cheese and stuff that sweats,
Mushrooms and vegetables (if you don’t have reusable produce bags)
Sandwiches, buns and biscuits,

They are an essential component in the  plastic free, take your own packaging,  shopping kit.

Sadly they are not so easy to get hold of. I bought my first load from Ebay which worked out expensive and they came, yes you’re way ahead of me, wrapped in plastic.

Finally I located a local paper bag seller who sold in bulk. They too came wrapped in plastic but it was polythene so easily recycled. It also represented a massive reduction in packaging.

The only downside now is that despite using them on a regular basis, there is still a huge pile of paper bags in the airing cupboard.

Paper bags  can be bought from hundreds of shops on the internet, including Amazon & Ebay.

Places to Use Your Bags

Find loose food outlets listed on the loose foods list

Please note  the scoop and save heading refers to a chain of shops so there will be more than one town listed in the one post.

More Information

Other kinds of useful, plastic free bags are listed  here.

Find out about composting here


Bubble wrap and jiffy bags

I do buy a lot of building stuff on line (for work you understand – it’s not a hobby), and though I do my best, much comes with protective packaging.

I am talking bubble wrap.

Ok, it is polythene and can be recycled but come on, who really believes we are going to recycle all this plastic or that it is ( as yet), cost effective to do so. If you do, try this from the Flotsam Diaries. Its good in a very bad way.

Long story short, I have a guilty bubble wrap secret and commit jiffy bag crimes on a large scale.

At least I used to. Now I give it all away to Cart in Huddersfield. This Christian African Relief Trust is run by local volunteers. It is based in Summer Street in Lockwood (opposite Magnet). Google Map to shop.

It relies entirely on voluntary contributions with no salaried staff. You take your pre loved stuff down there for them to sell and they sell it in the shop or often on E bay. Ergo – they   always need packaging and adore bubble wrap and jiffy bags.

It’s not a perfect solution but the best I can do.


Carrier Bags reusable

Cotton string bags are fantastic. These are my best bags and I use them most of the time. They have many virtues including:

  • When empty, they fold up really small, but they can carry a ludicrous amount of shopping.
  • Their soft handles do not cut into my fingers.
  • They are fully biodegradable.
  • They are organic &  fair-trade
  • Long lasting

I bought mine from Organic Ally”

She sells bags with either long or short handles.
The short handles are great for supermarket runs, the long handled bags can be hung off your shoulder for more leisurely shopping – I don’t like them as much as the short.

Bought in bulk i.e. numbers of 5 they are cheap – from around £4.00 a bag inc vat and shipping. You can mix and match bulk orders so you have a combination of short and long handled bags.


Or you could be uber-green and knit your own string bag – lovely bare foot person has posted a pattern for cotton yarn and a knitting machine

Fold Up Bags

The only downside to string bags is that they are full of holes which means that they are see through and they do not fold up up as small as the opaque  nylon fold up bags

onya bagI like Onya bags …..BUT they are made from a synthetic fibre RPET


Post consumer bottles are collected from recycling plants and spun into yarn. From this yarn comes the fabric that makes Onya Bags.

So, you might think, plastic bad…. but recycling good.Well yes – but I have to tell you I would have bought them anyway. In fact I have other nylon fold up bags that are not made from bottles.


Well man-made fabric is not only slightly more waterproof and opaque, it folds up really small. When packed up, these bags are the size of a golf ball, much lighter and come with a clip so they can be attached to your handbag or husband.

I haven’t found a natural fibre bag that is as good at folding, weighs so little or dries as quickly.

They can be carried round at all the times making them an ideal just- in -case bag for impulse purchases.

Moreover because they dry so fast they don’t get mouldy. This makes them perfect for taking on holidays and backpacking trips where laundry facilities are not of the best and space is limited.

chico-bag.jpgOnyabags (UK)

Onyabags also do, amongst other things, a messenger bag, a really handy fold up rucksack and mesh produce bags.

If you live in the USA, Chico bags do a similar thing.



PLA Starch Bags

PLA starch bags are described as a compostable plastic.Which can be confusing as they are a very different product from conventional, oil-derived plastics. Many people dismiss the compostable claim despite them being certified compostable  See plastics and introduction for more on this.
PLA plastic  is made  from plant-based materials such as corn starch. You can find about more about starch derived plastics here .
Once again they are compostable and certified as such.

Same, same but different?

PLA bags are almost but not quite the same as conventional plastic bags. However they share enough similarities to make them a very useful substitute and can be a great tool in your plastic free armoury.
They are not quite as strong as conventional plastic bags so are not good as carrier bags but they are water proof for a limited amount of time, ( eventually there is seepage), but you can certainly use them to carry fish or meat home. 
They are compostable and despite what folks might say they can be composted in a garden compost bin. Read more about PLA and composting here

Biobags & Others
One example of PLA bags is sold by the company Biobags. Back in the early days they were amongst the first to sell  in the U.K. They have very good credentials. Their bags are certified to BS N13432 standard and are manufactured sustainably at facilities certified to ISO 9001 and ISO 14001. BioBag is the world’s largest brand of certified biodegradable and compostable bags and films made from Mater-Bi®. Biobags are the bags used in Modbury the plastic free town.

These days many companies make and sell PLA bags and you can buy the from supermarkets.

NB do check you bag is certified compostable.


What is compostable? To be classed compostable, items must biodegrade within a certain time (around the rate at which paper biodegrades), and the resulting biomass must be free of toxins, able to sustain plant life and be used as an organic fertilizer or soil additive. For a man-made product to be sold as compostable, it has to meet certain standards. One such is the European Norm EN13432. You can find out more here.

What For & Which Size?

I use them for
fish and meat – (I ask that they use my bag instead of a plastic bag).
Buying loose frozen foodstuffs … yes you can frozen peas loose!
As freezer bags.

If you can get it, I find the 6 liter size best to take shopping. The 8 litre is obviously bin liner size, and eyebrows are raised when you ask to have your steak put in a bin liner..


PLA bags  can be bought from most big supermarkets. Biobags and other PLA bags can be found in hundreds of online shops  including Amazon & Ebay. Some suppliers are listed here.


Find loose food outlets listed on the loose foods list
Other kinds of useful, plastic free bags are listed  here.


And never forget that bio-degradable plastic bags do not biodegrade where as compostable plastic bags do compost. Not all bio-plastics (plant derived plastics) are compostable.


Degradable, biodegradable or compostable


Produce Bags

Produce bags are reusable bags that (as the name suggests), you put your loose produce in. It means you don’t have to use those nasty flimsy plastic bags they dish out in shops.I have been using mine for years now – in supermarkets and local shops, for everythingthing from green beans to bread.

There are two kinds of bag available on the market – cotton and polyester mesh. I prefer the cotton as they are biodegradable, last much longer and can be repaired. But the mesh bags  have the advantage of being see through, are lighter.

Bag Weight

The weight of the bag will make a difference at checkout in the price per weight. Some shops  subtract the tare weight but other don’t. The tare weight is the weight of the empty container.

Cotton Bags 

produce bag smallI have yet to source a supplier of cotton bags in the U.K. 

From America

I love these produce bags are cotton from  eco bags. This American company  supply unbleached cotton bags made in India using fair wage fair trade. These bags are really handy not just for produce but shoes, knitting, odd socks waiting to be reunited with their partners, gubbins and general things.

Available in Large (43cm D x 33cmW) or Medium (25cm D x 20cm W)

I have also bought cotton bags  from another American company Reusable Bags

They are made from fair trade, organic, cotton using fair wage labour; the company is reliable and the bags are reasonably priced.

HOWEVER they too are an American based company which has ramifications for the UK buyer.

Import Duties

Be aware import duty, customs charges and handling fees are payable on all goods purchased from America – last month I was summoned to the post office to pay £16.00 charges on a parcel worth £45.00. Do bear it in mind.


Cofo A Spain based company do a lovely range of organic cotton bags. they come in the following sizes. they are much thicker than the American bags and some have metal closures

They come in the following styles

30 x 35cm Tare weight: 30 grams

20 x 30 Tare weight: 20 grams
With a metal closure to keep the  bag sealed tight, not letting any items escape.

17 x 20 cm Tare weight: 15 grams

 you can read more about the bags and the company here.

Polyester Mesh Bags ( available in the UK)


Onya Bags a UK based company. They sell a nylon mesh produce drawstring under the name Onya Weigh. They are the lightest produce bag ever and scrunch up really small. They are sold in packs of 5 complete with their own nifty little carry bag. The whole package is the size of a peach and has a clip so you can attach it to your child, husband or bag strap. At nine pounds for 5 they are a bargain.

Flip & Tumble

More recently I came across these  flip & tumble Reusable Produce Bags- 5-Pack. I have not tried them myself having more than enough produce bags but they have a good review on Amazon. Rather more expensive at 13.13 pounds for 5.