Bag it 

The case for cloth.

TOTE 'EM: With cloth bags.
  • TOTE 'EM: With cloth bags.

So it's the last day of January. Four-and-a-half weeks into the New Year. How's that diet going?

I come not to chide, but to offer salve for your conscience in the form of a replacement resolution: Buy as many Deep-Fried Lardballs as you want at the grocery store, but don't bring any of them home in a plastic bag. Or paper, either.

Ecogeeks have preached about using cloth shopping bags for years, but they never quite broke into the mainstream. Then last spring, famous handbag designer Anya Hindmarch teamed up with an environmental organization and came out with the “I'm Not a Plastic Bag” bag, a $15 cotton number with that phrase embroidered on the side that became so trendy women stood in line for hours to buy one. (And so trendy, too, that another company released its own version, embroidered with “I'm Not a Smug Twat.” Heh.)

In just the last few months, though, it seems like reusable shopping bags have popped up everywhere. Kroger, Target and Wild Oats, to name just three major chains, sell them at extremely reasonable prices — each has at least one style that's only 99 cents.

They have the obvious advantage of cutting down on the number of plastic bags that wind up in the landfill — about 100 billion in the U.S. each year, at a cost to retailers (and therefore to the rest of us) of about $4 billion. But they're also practical: They stand up straight like paper bags, but have handles and don't tear if they get wet or overloaded.

Wild Oats' 99-cent model wins the award for pretty, with a nice colorful design. They're also big enough that you wouldn't need more than two or three unless you were shopping for the Mongol hordes.

Kroger's I don't care for looks-wise, just because they've got an enormous KROGER logo on them. But they do also sell an insulated version designed for meats and frozen foods — and Kroger also offers a 3-cent discount for every reusable bag you bring with you when you shop there, no matter where you got it from.

But Target wins the grand prize: They've got a smaller 99-cent model too, but for $1.50 you can buy a larger one that folds up, with snaps to keep it that way. Like Kroger's they've got the store logo on them, but in a much more stylized way — the Target bull's eyes form the leaves of a tree. I've got two, and they live, very unobtrusively, in my car now.

Other options: The Clinton Library gift shop carries bags from 1 Bag at a Time — chocolate brown, with a Clinton presidential seal patch sewn on the back, $5 each. (You can also buy them without the seal, in a variety of colors and for significantly less money, at www.onebagatatime.com and, according to the web site, at a place called Nutrition World in Cabot.)

If budget is not a consideration — or you'd simply like to kill two tree-hugging birds with one good deed — check out the burlap shopping bags at Ten Thousand Villages. The $28 bags are hand-sewn by Bangladeshi women who are paid a living wage, and they're much sturdier and more stylish than the 99-cent jobs, as you'd expect. Perhaps not practical if you need half a dozen for your bi-weekly grocery stock-up, but you wouldn't feel strange taking one along to someplace a bit more upscale than Target.

I'm about 15 years and 35 pounds outside the target demographic for XXI, the new contemporary-fashions store in Park Plaza, so I took my time getting by to check it out after it opened earlier this month. I'd heard the line to get in on opening day snaked around the mall, and I can see why: Cheap, trendy clothes, and lots of them.

After my foray into XXI, I made a beeline for Eddie Bauer, where I'm a bit more at home. Especially in the back of the store with the sale racks. They were taking an extra 30 percent off all clearance merchandise, and there was plenty left to choose from. Not to mention plenty of winter left to wear it.



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