- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 27, 2008

My favorite oversized tote is not a Hermes, a Burberry or a Louis Vuitton. Don’t get me wrong. The aforementioned are lovely, and if someone were to offer me one, I would say, “Certainly, I’d be happy to take that off your hands.”

My favorite, though, is by far more practical and — at 59 cents — costs about a ten-thousandth of the designer totes’ prices.

You guessed it. It’s the Big Blue Bag, IKEA’s giant, reusable plastic bag with durable polyester handles. It weighs all of 5 ounces, and even though it’s roughly 22 inches wide by 14 inches deep, it folds into a wallet-size packet that is tucked easily into a small purse.

Its uses? Everything and anything.

Says Mona Liss, spokeswoman for IKEA U.S.: “You see it on the beach, on Madison Avenue, at equestrian events. … You name it.”

Ms. Liss would not divulge the exact number of bags sold through the years — Big Blue premiered in 1996 — but says more than 3 million Big Blues are sold annually. That’s just in IKEA’s U.S. stores. Globally, the Swedish furniture chain can be found in two dozen nations with multiple stores in each country — Germany alone, for example, has 43 stores.

Personally, I have four Big Blues and use them for everything from hauling laundry up and down stairs to packing bulky items such as car seats.

“We estimate that each bag can handle about 1,000 trips,” Ms. Liss says, adding that each Big Blue safely can hold up to 30 pounds per trip without ripping — not bad for a 5-ounce plastic number.

In other words, when poundage goes up, it might hurt your back more than it will the bag.

With free plastic bags going the way of VCRs and cassette tapes - several nations around the world have banned them and plastic-bag-free jurisdictions in the United States include San Francisco and Oakland - the Big Blue most likely is not just here to stay but here to grow.

“Sales of the Big Blue Bag have doubled since IKEA started charging for regular plastic bags in March of 2007,” Ms. Liss says.

On Oct. 1, in an effort to further its green-message mission, IKEA is going completely free of regular plastic bags.

“We hope to engage customers to look at their daily behavior; part of that is rethinking the use of plastic bags,” Ms. Liss says. “The IKEA motto is, ‘You do a little, we do a little, and together we do a lot.’”

Indeed. A lot of hauling.

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