Earth Week 2023_sustainable swaps_Russbe

Listen, I love a good Stasher bag as much as the next person. I use them for everything from storing leftovers to toting around snacks and keeping bits and bobs together in my beach bag. But I’m not so much of a purist that I won’t consider incorporating alternative products into my storage repertoire, and in the case of Genmert’s Russbe Reusable Gallon Bags, my open mind paid off.

I stumbled upon the multi-use zip-top bags at The Container Store one day a year or two ago (ironically, while buying a few Stasher bags). At the time, Stasher either hadn’t released its own gallon-size bag yet, or I simply hadn’t encountered it. Either way, I was excited about the prospect of a sustainable swap for the disposable, gallon Ziploc bags I was still using to store and freeze larger quantities and sizes of food. I reused Ziplocs as many times as I could, but single-use plastic only holds up for so long — and once it’s done, it’s highly unlikely to actually be recycled (of course, it’s still worth trying, even in the case of tricky items like plastic film). So, I bought a box of eight Russbe bags and decided to give them a try.

Fast-forward a couple of weeks. I needed a large food storage bag for some reason or another, and I hadn’t yet returned the Russbes. I gave in. Some two years later, all eight bags from that original box are still intact, I use them constantly and I haven’t bought a disposable gallon bag since.

A reusable and freezer-safe zip top storage bag

The Russbe Reusable Gallon Bags are ideal for people looking for a lightweight and durable alternative to single-use plastic zip top bags or Stasher bags. They’re roomy, freezer- and dishwasher-safe, easy to clean, and easy to store both when in use and packed away.

What we liked about it

Just like the single-use bags they replace, the Russbe bags are big enough to store things like a small loaf of bread, multiple frozen meatless burger patties and entire batches of cookie dough, among countless other things. And they seal well, so you don’t have to worry about dreaded freezer burn.

My favorite quality, though, is how space-efficient these bags are. I have a drawer freezer that’s pretty much always full, and the Russbe bags account for virtually no extra space beyond that taken up by the food that’s inside. I’m a frequent cookie baker, and whenever I make dough from scratch, I double or triple the recipe and freeze the extra so it’s ready next time I want to bake. I simply flatten a batch’s worth of dough, slide it into a Russbe bag and place it at the bottom of a freezer shelf with plenty of room for additional items on top of it. Since I bought my set, the bag design has been slightly updated. The newer version has a gusseted bottom, meaning you can stand it up when filling it and fit bulky or odd-shaped items in more easily.

russbe bag review freezer

That benefit translates well to storage when the bags aren’t in use, too. Whereas tupperware and glass containers quickly fill up my drawers and cabinets, these puppies can fit pretty much anywhere; I usually fold them in half and slide them in on the side of a shelf.

And then there’s the ability to easily label — and relabel — the bags. I use an erasable marker (which I bought as part of a set including reusable labels) and write directly on the bags — which is easy, thanks to the bag’s dedicated section for labeling. The eraser requires a bit of effort to really get the ink out, but in the dishwasher, it washes almost completely off. Those aforementioned reusable labels also stick well on the Russbe bags, so sometimes I go that route instead.

russbe bag review lead

The Russbe bags are dishwasher-safe, and though I’ve only put mine through the dishwasher a handful of times, they seem to hold up well in the process. But typically, I simply fill the bag with water and a bit of dish soap, zip it shut, shake it a bit then rinse. If there are any stubborn food remnants, I use a sponge to scrub the inside (given the size, it’s easy to get in there for cleaning). When I’m done, I place the bags upside-down over a cup or water bottle and let them air dry.

What we didn’t like about it

The Russbe bags can feel a bit rigid and don’t have any give (unlike the more pliable silicone of Stasher bags), which can make it tricky if you’re trying to squeeze in something that’s an odd shape. That said, the only things I’ve tried to store in Russbe bags without success are larger loaves of bread; in that case, I simply used two bags instead of one.

While the bags are technically dishwasher-safe, their size complicates things. In my dishwasher, they’re too big to go on the top rack (they’d hit the silverware tray above it), and on the bottom rack, they just barely fit placed upside-down (and still need to be bent slightly so as not to hit the top rack). If the bag doesn’t need a thorough cleaning, the dishwasher is probably fine. But when I put a Russbe bag with some bread remnants stuck to the inside in the dishwasher, it came out with several of those remnants still there. It seemed like, because the bag was bent, the water and soap couldn’t actually get to some of those stubborn spots. (They did wash out with a quick rinse in the sink, though.)

russbe bag review dishwasher

I’ve found that cleaning the Russbe bags in the sink is easy enough, so it’s not a significant loss in terms of time and labor, but the dishwasher route does save water, so it’s a bummer they don’t fit better.

Functionality aside, I would love to see more transparency from the company in terms of sustainability and ethics throughout the supply chain. The website states that the bags themselves are BPA-, PVC-, latex- and phthalate-free and that the company “uses biodegradable and recyclable packaging materials,” but that’s the extent of the information. It’s unclear what type of plastic is used in the manufacturing (ideally, bags like these would be made of recycled plastic or no plastic at all), how the materials are sourced and whether or not fair labor practices are in place. While these are indeed a solid sustainable swap for single-use Ziploc bags if you keep and use them for a long time, I’d feel even better about them as a consumer if I knew they were sustainably and ethically produced. In an age of greenwashing, transparency is key.

How it compares

Stasher has all but cornered the market on reusable storage bags — so much so that silicone pouch dupes seem to be increasingly prevalent. The Russbe bags aren’t that, though. While they theoretically can compete, in my experience, they do best as a supplement to serve a different purpose. While I haven’t personally tested Stasher’s gallon-size bag, I know through my experience with the other sizes that it’s not as space-efficient as the Russbe. Empty, the gallon Stasher is 4.75 inches deep (at its widest, where it stands up), while the Russbe is just .25 inches. Even when you flatten the bags for storage, the Stasher can only be minimized so much, whereas the Russbe becomes practically paper-thin. That difference matters when the bags are filled, too, especially if you’re tight on freezer space like I am. Stasher’s flexible silicone does, however, make it a bit easier to fill with bulky or odd-shaped food and items than the stretch-free Russbe plastic.

Stashers largely remain my go-to for any non-gallon-size and on-the-go needs, though I do have a few years-old Planet Wise bags in my rotation as well. The latter fall somewhere between Stasher and Russbe in many ways: They’re very lightweight and pack pretty flat, and they’re also dishwasher-safe. That said, they’re not air-tight and freezer-safe for long-term food storage, nor do they keep crunchy snacks or squishable sandwiches as protected on the go like Stashers do. I tend to use them for carrying things like cloth napkins, cough drops and sunscreen. I also prefer the translucent quality of both the Russbe and Stasher bags to the (albeit fun) opaque designs of fabric pouches like these — especially considering there’s no easy way to label what’s inside. In fact, Russbe takes the lead on that quality; the easily markable label space is a huge benefit.

russbe bag review standing

That said, Stasher has the edge when it comes to sustainability and transparency. On its website, the company provides far more information about its materials, sourcing and ethics than Russbe does. Plus, Stasher offers a recycling program in partnership with TerraCycle, which is important because while silicone is a long-lasting durable alternative to plastic, if it heads to the landfill, it will stay there forever. (The Container Store listing for the Russbe bags refers to the material as “recyclable,” but it’s unclear if the product — zip top and all — would actually be accepted by municipal recycling services. We reached out to Russbe for clarification, but have not received a response at the time of printing.)

Bottom line

The Russbe Reusable Gallon Bag really is an ideal replacement for the disposable, single-use plastic bags. I use mine exclusively in the kitchen (which is also how I used the single-use versions), but these bags certainly can fulfill other needs, from storing leftovers to toting around kids’ toys and keeping odds and ends together in your suitcase.

Sure, they’re more expensive up front, at about $1.62 per bag compared to .34 cents per bag for gallon-size Ziplocs — but you only need to use the Russbes about five times to make up the difference, and I’ve used mine far more than that without buying a single Ziploc.