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Plastic Bags: Frugal, Smart Ways to Use Them Again Before Chucking Them into a Landfill

By Vicki McClure Davidson


According to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than 380 billion plastic bags, sacks, and wraps are consumed in the U.S. each year. While many states are beginning to recognize that the overabundance of plastic bags filling our landfills, waterways, and highways must be stopped or slowed down, and are either banning or limiting their use, not all states are taking such action to halt the pollution and use of oil needed to produce so many plastic bags.

Pollution from plastic bags can be slowed down by their reuse before they're thrown into a landfill or littered throughout our country. We need to be more frugal and be more aware of our impact on the environment with trillions of plastic bags being discarded annually.

And the problem is not just in the United States. In January 2008, China launched a surprise crackdown on plastic bags, banning production of ultra-thin bags and forbidding supermarkets and shops from handing out free carriers starting June 1. Chinese people use up to 3 billion plastic bags a day and the country has to refine 5 million tons (37 million barrels) of crude oil every year to make plastics used for packaging, according to China Trade News. From countries like Ireland to Uganda and South Africa, governments have experimented with heavy taxes, outright bans, or eliminating the thinnest bags.

One step you personally can take to be part of the solution is to not add to the annual billions of discarded bags. Taking your own bag when you shop is a good idea. A reusable canvas or heavy cloth bag is best. Some grocery stores give a small discount (like a nickel or dime) if you bring your own bag. This is a perfect opportunity to educate your children about making an effort to cut down on or not use plastic bags at all. Let them know that even one person taking positive action in recycling and repurposing can make a difference.

What Can You Do?

Do you have a collection of bags in your pantry, a heaving mammoth collection that is groaning to be used? Do you stare at it, wondering how on earth you could ever reuse them all? Are you tempted to just grab them all and toss them out in the trash so that you can free up needed space in the house or apartment?

Before you take such action, remember that it was your frugal decision to save them to reuse. Don't toss in the towel just yet. Your efforts to reduce, recycle, reuse, and repurpose them are important.

They are, without doubt or question, the single, most prolific waste item that was not consciously purchased found in the average home. Scary, huh?

Reusing plastic bags saves you money because, well, you already have them. No current investment is needed. Stop getting more, by all means, but do something positive with those you already have.

You could consider them "free,", although their price has already been calculated in as an expense to the store and so, you've paid for them. But you don't need to buy them now. In many cases, they can substitute for an item that would need to be purchased. And by all means, pass on your ideas to friends and family members, because EVERYONE has a boatload of saved plastic bags at home, just waiting to be reused in a smart, cheap way.



Here are some uses for those confounded plastic bags.

Cookbook Protectors

To keep the cookbook clean while concocting a culinary wonder, wrap a bag around the opened book and weight the two sides down with something heavy, like a couple of rocks, a small pot, a mallet, anything you have handy in the kitchen that will keep the cookbook open.

Use plastic bags to protect fragile glassware when moving; it's cleaner than using newspaper or packing peanuts | Photo credit: odapi, morgueFile
Use plastic bags to protect fragile glassware when moving; it's cleaner than using newspaper or packing peanuts | Photo credit: odapi, morgueFile

Fragile Glassware Protection

Wrap wine glasses and other fragile items with plastic bags when you’re packing to move. A layer of three or four bags around each glass piece should provide enough protection and will not leave behind newspaper ink on the glass or annoying pieces of Styrofoam packing peanuts all over everything. Be sure to add extra thick padding with a wadded-up plastic bag around the delicate stems of wine and champagne glasses.

Planter Fillers

Crumple plastic bags to fill the bottom of a large pot that's too deep for your plant (but be sure not to cover the drainage hole, if it has one). You can cut down on the amount of potting soil needed, and since plastic packs less heft than dirt, you'll be able to move a big planter around with a bit less grunting.

Knee Pads

Need to kneel in your garden to pull weeds, or on the street to change a tire, but don't want to preserve the memory eternally on your pant legs? Grab a couple of plastic bags and tie one around each knee, covering the entire area that will be exposed to dirt and grime.

Draft Stoppers

Make draft stoppers for the bottom of exit doors of your house. You can use almost any type of scrap fabric. Sew pieces of scrap material together to make several long tubes. Then, fill the tubes with crumpled up plastic bags. Sew the ends shut and place them in front of exit doors to keep cold air and drafts from entering. With some attractive, heavy fabric, you can make these into cheap, but appreciated, holiday gifts. Add a bit of weight to the draft stopper, like a few rocks or broken pottery, so that it will stay in place at the door.

Hand Protectors

Protect your hands from hazardous or disgusting things. Use bags as gloves to handle messy things in the kitchen (like chicken or turkey carcasses), potentially harmful to your hands (like cutting up chili peppers), or down-and-out yukky (like the little "presents" the dog leaves in the front yard), then turn them inside out to trap the offending matter inside for easy disposal.

When it's raining or snowing, slip a plastic bag over each foot over your socks and inside your boots for additional protection from moisture and cold | Photo credit: alvimann, morgueFile
When it's raining or snowing, slip a plastic bag over each foot over your socks and inside your boots for additional protection from moisture and cold | Photo credit: alvimann, morgueFile

Inclement Weather Feet Protectors

When it's snowing or raining outside, slip a plastic bag over each sock before you put your rubber boots on. The bags will keep your feet and socks dry even if the boots don't keep out the moisture. They'll also hold in more body heat and keep your feet warmer.

Pillow Shams

If you want to place pillow shams on your bed, but you have no pillows, just substitute plastic grocery bags instead. If they become flat, you can fluff them back into shape in no time. The same goes for filling puffy window valances. Crumpled up grocery bags also make a great filler because they're so light.

Paint Preservers

You're painting the kitchen when an emergency pulls you away. To keep your paint brushes and rollers from drying out, place them in plastic bags and tie them or wrap them with rubber bands to keep air out. The tools will stay moist and protected for a day or two.

Quick Kitchen Clean-Ups

For easy cleanup, instead of peeling fruits and vegetables over a cutting board or into the sink, do it over a plastic bag. When you're done, flip the peelings into the garbage and rinse the bag to reuse another day, or simply toss the whole shebang into the trash.

Emergency Wrapping Paper

If you need wrapping paper for a gift and have no time to shop for wrapping paper, use plastic bags. Search through your collection to find the prettiest and most colorful without logos or writing. Triple-bag the gift, then tie all three sets of handles into a knot. Cut the tops of the loops and fan the pieces out to make a plume.

Tie plastic bags over your shoes as protectors to stop the tracking of mud or dirty snow into the house during wet weather | Photo credit: penywise, morgueFile
Tie plastic bags over your shoes as protectors to stop the tracking of mud or dirty snow into the house during wet weather | Photo credit: penywise, morgueFile

Shoe Protectors

Tie plastic bags over your shoes to stop the tracking of mud or dirty snow into the house when you come in, or protect your slippers from dirt, snow, dew, or rain when you run out in the morning to fetch the newspaper from the front lawn. Be careful when walking on smooth surfaces, as the plastic won't give you any traction and you could slip and fall if it's wet outside.

Waste Collectors

Use plastic bags as small trash can liners, containers for soiled diapers, and for used cat litter. It makes disposal much easier.

Paint Overspray Protection

If you're spray-painting a small item or two, use a plastic bag to control the mess of paint overspray. Place one item at a time in the bag, spray-paint, and remove to a spread-out newspaper to dry. When you're done, toss out the bag for easy cleanup.

Emergency Diaper Cover

Mothers with babies: Carry a spare plastic grocery or bread bag in your purse or diaper bag when out with your little one. Should the need arise, it makes a satisfactory emergency disposable cover for a cloth diaper. Additionally, a spare plastic bag will hold a removed wet/dirty cloth or disposable diaper until you get home.

Emergency Rain Hats

If you live in a rainy area, stay prepared for those unexpected rain storms. Tuck a plastic bag into your pocket, purse, glove compartment, or under the front seat of your vehicle. Then, if you're caught in a sudden downpour, you can use the plastic bag as a makeshift rain hat to protect your hair.

Protect your hands from smelly gasoline when filling your gas tank | Photo credit: calgrin, morgueFile
Protect your hands from smelly gasoline when filling your gas tank | Photo credit: calgrin, morgueFile

Hand Protection When Pumping Gas

Keep smelly gasoline off your hands when pumping gas into your vehicle. Keep several plastic bags in your glove compartment (a good idea for many other uses), and when you're about to fill your gas tank, cover your hands with one while you pump.

Craft Material

Crafters are always looking for new materials. You can cut plastic bags into strips and make wreaths with them. Or, you can crochet a unique rug. If you have a vegetable garden outside and the birds are pecking at your produce, frighten them away by making a scarecrow made out of plastic bags. Stuff old clothing with the plastic bags, then assemble them into a makeshift scarecrow.

Sink Liner

When peeling vegetables, husking corn, or cutting fruit that has a rind (such as melons), place a plastic grocery bag in the sink. After you are through prepping your fruits and vegetables, lift the plastic grocery bag by its corners, and deposit the peels, husks, and rinds with no mess into your trashcan or compost pile.

Wet Umbrella Holders

To avoid dripping water all over your (or anyone else's) house on a rainy day, pop your wet umbrella into a bag as you cross the threshold. You can even tie the handles snugly and throw it back into your purse.



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Emmerson, Kassidy, Associated Content, "25 Brilliant Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags, Don't Throw Them Away, Recycle Them Instead," (, March 15, 2006.
Huang, Christine, "Recycling Around the House: Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags, Use Them, Save Them and Reuse Them," (, December 20, 2006.
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Shipeng, Guo, and Emma Graham-Harrison, Reuters UK, "China Launches Surprise Crackdown on Plastic Bags," (, January 8, 2008.
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