Frugal Parenting (featured column)
by Rachel Keller
Are you a fellow recycler? Join our discussion on the many ways to reuse plastic grocery bags! You probably already use several of our tips, like lining trash cans or taking them with you when you walk your dog, but we have MANY more ideas for you here!
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Do you have a drawer or closet stuffed full of empty grocery bags? I hate to throw anything away that could be useful so I have my share of plastic (and paper) bags. Through the years, I’ve discovered many ways to use those bags.
Before you discard (or even recycle) another plastic bag, consider trying some of these ideas:
1. Save money by using plastic bags as trash can liners.
2. Don’t buy expensive mailing fillers. Save plastic bags to protect and keep items from moving around.
3. Use plastic bags to protect Christmas decorations while storing.
4. Keep a couple plastic bags in a diaper bag for soiled clothing.
5. When traveling, use plastic bags in your suitcases for dirty underclothes.
6. Place your wet swim suits or other wet clothing inside plastic bags until you arrive home and can launder or hang out to dry.
7. When away from home, put dirty shoes or boots in a bag so you don’t get dirt in your car. (That’s assuming you have other shoes to wear.)
8. Place disposable diapers in a bag before tossing in the diaper pail. It helps diminish odors somewhat.
9. Keep several in your car, especially if you have children. If someone gets unexpectedly sick while on the highway and you’re unable to stop, use double bags. You can knot and dispose–better in the bag than all over the car.
10. Use for puzzles or other items which have small parts that may get lost. My elementary-age sons enjoy putting together (and taking apart) 500-piece puzzles. Unfortunately, some of the puzzle boxes have become worn out. I keep the puzzles in the boxes with a rubber band around the box. To prevent pieces from falling out and getting lost, I then place the puzzle inside a bag.
11. Place food inside a plastic bag before packing in a lunch bag. Even "airtight" containers can leak, especially if the lid is not on tightly.
12. Put sippy cups (even "spill-proof" ones) in a bag to prevent accidental spills in the diaper bag.
13. For easy cleanup, place a plastic bag inside a bucket or pot next to your sink when you peel fruits or vegetables. You can quickly dispose of the bag or place peelings in a compost pile.
14. Double line a bucket with plastic bags. When removing the skin and fat (or even bones) from chicken or other meat, place in bags for easy cleanup.
15. Place frozen ice packs in a plastic bags to prevent condensation from "puddling" in your lunch bag. When we travel, we freeze some water in our water bottles before filling them up with cold water. The bottles produce so much condensation, that it looks like a little lake in our cup dispensers. To prevent that, pack water bottles in a plastic bag.
16. Use for organization in a deep freezer. I stock up on frozen vegetables and place like vegetables together in a plastic bag. (Rotate by putting newest vegetables on the bottom of the bag.) I usually place my vegetables in the freezer in alphabetical order. Doing this helps me know exactly where to find certain vegetables. You can also use various colored bags to sort vegetables.
I like using bags to ensure no vegetables get "lost" in the freezer. Plus, I know exactly how many bags I have of each item, and unloading the freezer to defrost and clean is so much easier. Another hint is to list the contents of your deep freezer on a magnetic dry erase board (or keep a paper on top with a magnet). Every time you take out something, delete an item from the list. If you are diligent about this, you will know exactly what needs replacing when you go to the store.
17. When defrosting meats, place a paper towel in a plastic bag and put meats in the bag to prevent messy leaks and cleanups.
18. In the winter, use plastic bags over your children’s snow boots to keep feet drier.
19. Carry a couple bags with you while you walk. You can use it to pick up trash and then dispose.
20. Take bags to the grocery store to reuse instead of getting new ones each time. (Save the cost of buying reusable bags.)
21. Donate bags to food pantries, used book stores, libraries, thrift shops, or other organizations. Instead of stuffing all the bags into one bag, flatten the plastic bags, fold them in half, and place in another plastic bag before donating.
22. Fill several bags with food or other items for a needy family. (This is one of the most rewarding ways to use those bags!)
To keep your plastic bags neat and available, you can purchase special cloth bags for storing them, make your own bag, or use an empty tissue box. I find empty tissue boxes to be the most convenient and economical (as well as environmentally friendly) for me. Keep several in different rooms (pantry, closet, basement, baby room for diapers, etc.) and pull out bags as needed.
Here’s a hint while at the grocery store. Ask the bagger to put your cold items inside a paper bag. (You may want to have them put the frozen items in a plastic bag and then inside the paper bag.) The paper bag helps to keep the items colder longer, and when you arrive home, you’ll know automatically which bags to empty first.
One last caution: Teach your children never to put a plastic bag over their head. If you have young children, keep plastic bags out of their reach to avoid suffocation.
Do you have other uses for plastic bags? We would love to hear your ideas!
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Compiled by Editor
"Crochet bags into door mats, easy to hose off. Around here several people have been crocheting the plastic bags into oval or circular rugs for their entry's, porches, and patios."
"Great for picking up dead mice or other things if gloves are not handy."
"At a garage sale recently a lady showed us how she folds her bags--lay out flat and smooth with hands then fold in fourths lengthwise, then start folding in triangles as flags are folded. Line liter pans with plastic bags, double if needed, easy to dispose of." - - Anonymous
"When walking your dog, put your hand inside the bag to pick up doggie's business, then wrap bag around, tie off, and dispose of properly. No mess, no dirty hands. Better than any pooper scooper I've ever seen!" (Several of our readers submitted this tip, so we combined them into one!)
Here's another similar tip... "For dog owners, before you go out in the yard to clean up, well you know!!! Put a bag inside of another bag, this is for extra protection, make two sets of these, wrap one set over each of your shoes before going out to clean the area our fine furry friends use as a potty. Remove the bags before heading back in the door. I have a deck so I remove them before my feet ever even touch my deck to prevent bringing those germs and possible accidents that may stick to the bags on my shoes, into my home." - Angela
"I always take stitching or crocheting with me in the car and on trips. I keep it in double plastic grocery bags. They are lightweight, fit in smaller spaces, and if the outer one gets dirty or torn, the inner one is still protecting my project." - Anonymous
"I double plastic grocery bags (just in case one has a hole--no leakage) and use them to collect scooped kitty waste from my cat's litter box. They are perfect for collecting the solids that are formed with scoopable litter." - Anonymous
"Electronic litter trays… These things come with plastic cases you have to buy over and over but I take two plastic bags, place one inside the other and line the disposable tray. When full just lift out by the handle and dispose. But one word of warning… You need to line the tray and tuck under all left over bag, underneath the tray or it will snag when the arm drops the litter into the tray. This can save you a lot of money as a 12 pack refill of the plastic bins for these electronic cat litter box, run about $15.00, why pay that when plastic bags from the grocery store are free?" - Angela
"Use plastic bags to clean birds cages, newspaper as the liner. When cleaning out the newspaper liner, simply dispose of it in a plastic bag and then toss it. I have found this makes cleaning out the cage much easier and I do it daily. It takes me all of 2 minutes a day to have the bag right there at the cage, pick up the paper and plop it in the bag, then slide in 4 new pieces of paper. The cage no longer gets dirty like it did and I only have to do a cage wash down every 3 months." - Angela
"For about twenty years I have been using grocery bags as trash liners. It seemed such a waste of money to buy trash bags when I could use grocery bags. Then a few years ago I decided that I wanted to keep a stash of bags in each room where a trash can was located. I had an empty tissue box and realized that the functional design of the box would meet my needs. Form follows function. Well, with each new tissue purchases I took into consideration the decor of the rooms I wished to have a grocery bag stash in. When the box was empty a new room would get a bag stash. I have a stash in the kitchen, the bathrooms, the laundry room, and on the changing table. The stash blends in with the room design, no eyesore. Taking out the trash is faster and there is no more excuses for not replacing the trash liners." - Sandy
"My father (God rest his soul) used to store the bags in a empty paper towel roll. Works like a charm." - ljds
"You already offered so many great tips of using plastic bags. I can not add another one. I just wanted to let you know that I do not use many plastic bags... as most of the time I take several bags made of sturdy fabrics with me to the grocery store (or any other store or the library). They can hold more than the plastic bags, I can reuse them over and over again (if dirty, just wash them), I receive a 'bag credit' at the check out and it is very friendly to the environment. Sometimes I get a few plastic bags anyway, because I forgot my bags or I purchased more groceries than fit into my bags or I purchased meat, which I like to have wrapped in a plastic bag in case it leaks. I use those extra plastic bags for lining my garbage cans." - Sylvia
"I didn't see this idea mentioned in your list. I keep a few in my desk drawer at work. If you have a lot of mail a bag is handy to carry it in so that it is kept together." - Charlene
"Yes, I do have another use and it is a good one. If you have a sick person in the house who has a hard time making it to the bathroom to throw up, line something a box or a trash can with a bag and it is easier to clean up for them or you. Place other extras near by for repeated use. Sorry this is kind of gross but a real part of life." - Virginia
Note: We've already featured this tip, but I like the way she put it! "Walking the dog… I don’t think this needs further explanation! ; ) " - Nancy
"I use them to collect and dispose of weeds in my yard. I use the bags to collect spent flowers when deadheading." - Jack
"I love your ideas. Here are some more for you to share with others: Use the boxes that pop cans come in to store your bags. The can dispenser holes are ideal for dispensing the bags. Just use the handle hole as a was to fill the box up again and again. That way you can recycle two types of items at once. You can cram so many bags into one of these little boxes and store the box in a cupboard. Kids and adults can make fun jewelry out of them by cutting them into strips and braiding them and making bracelets out of them. Save them to make ice packs in emergencies for sprains and other injuries." - Donna
"Preparing the Thanksgiving Turkey is a little hard on my ick nerve. I put my hand inside of a plastic grocery bag before reaching inside to pull out the neck and gizzards. I pull them out, then, with my other hand, pull the bag in the other direction so they're inside of the bag, tie it and dispose." - Angie
"I save a few paper towel rolls, stuff bags in (it will hold a lot) and keep under the car seat. You will always have a trash bag, and it is out of the way." - Nancy
"You can cut the bags on a continuous bias to use in lieu of yarn and crochet bags and other items." - Estelle
This tip is for plastic grocery bags. If you have a person in your home that has difficulty getting in or out of a vehicle because they can't lift their leg into the car - put a plastic grocery bag on the seat, have them back up to the seat, sit down and then turn into the car. The plastic bag enable them to turn much easier - it takes away the friction of clothes on fabric or leather. It has worked in our house for years and I always carry some in the car (under the passenger seat). Hope you can use this one! - Sandi Smithe
I make yarn out of plastic bags. I then crochet them into very sturdy tote bags (that can hold at least 20 books). I 1st lay the bag flat. Then I fold it from side to side a few times (keeping it flat). I then cut off the handles and the bottom. These parts I save for packing material. Then I cut the bag into ½" sections, which when cut are loops. I then join the loops together. This is how I make my yarn. I then crochet a rectangle (however wide and twice as long as the finished size I want). I then sew on a ribbon handle – I start from the middle of the bag, sew half of one side, form one handle, sew down the other side, form the other handle, and sew the rest of the beginning side. I then fold the bag in half with the ribbon side towards each other. I crochet the 2 sides closed, flip it inside out, and I have a great recycled tote bag. - Kristy
(Note: We LOVE this idea, just please use caution and never leave your baby unattended with this plastic bib!) "When my baby was starting solid foods, I used to lay a bag flat, handles separated and cut off the bottom of the bag. Then I'd make another cut down the middle, between the handles. Voila! Instant disposable bib." - Donna
I was just reading about your plastic bags tip. I have taken a plastic bag and cut it circularly about two inches thick (like you're peeling an apple). It becomes one long piece. Using a LARGE plastic crochet hook, crochet a rug for the mudroom with this "yarn." Tie on a new piece when you get to the end. The plastic has a bit of a "nap" to it when done up this way and you can easily remove move, etc., from shoes. Then, when it looks ratty, toss it! With the big "yarn" and a big hook, you can make a rug in less than hour! Thanks for all the tips! - Lisa J. in Wisconsin
"I use them in the laundry room to line a small can and dispose of lint from the dryers filter. That way you don't have to keep a large trashcan in there to dispose of it, or walk it to another room, while dragging the fly away dust from it with you to dispose of it. I have also done the same thing with just hanging the bag on a hook vs. taking up space with a small can, for those who have limited space in their laundry rooms." - Angela
If you or someone you know is moving, keep all your bags for several weeks (or longer) to use for the move. Instead of breaking your back carry a 70 lb. box of books that may break en route to the moving truck, consider placing your books in the bags in sets or 5 or 6. It makes for a MUCH easier method of carrying the books, and they can fill the nooks and crannies in the moving truck. You can double bag, if you like, or keep it single for paperbacks and smaller novels. That's my secret moving trick after moving 24 times in 26 years. Trust me, it works. This is the best use for these bags, after using them as trash bags. - Tiffan, CA
First off - At home, I store plastic grocery sacks in a Soft Drink 12 pack refrigerator carton--they can easily be put in the open end of the box--and the hole on the side makes them easy to dispense as well. I always keep grocery sacks in the car, under the seat. They make great "trash bags", wet towel or laundry storage bags (whether your at the cars wash/pool/gym- or traveling) also use as recycle grocery sacks, urp bags, fast food & ice cream clean up bags--etc. At home I pull the extra large ones straight out--fold twice and granny knot once for easy, compact storage and to mark them as the extra large sz--and put a couple in my purse. If I get caught inside at work without my umbrella, I turn them upside down, snip a hole in the bottom of the bag and on the sides, and slide over my head, to keep dry on my walk to the car. The extra large size also work great, as a replacement for dry cleaning bags, for covering hung clothing, by snipping a hole in the bottom and sliding the hole over your hangers, you can also knot the handles to keep the clothes "contained." - Mary
And more tips from our friend Angela...
"Wrap your feet or tie bags on your feet when having to enter a room that you just cleaned the carpet in. And wrap plastic bags around furniture legs to protect them from the cleaning solution that gets on them."
Note: I've been doing this one for years, it works great when you need a break from painting, even overnight! "Use plastic bags to store your wet paint brushes and rollers. Use a separate bag for each to put your item in and just twist the top of the bag around it and tuck in under before placing it down on the table or work surface."
"Hang a bag on the wall or your garage or shed to keep soiled work gloves or rags in."
"A popular painting technique that has come about is bagging. You paint them use a thinned paint of the same color or lighter color that is thinned with glaze and use a very wrinkled up plastic grocery bag to blot on paint, it ends up looking like Venetian wall treatment, it is very pretty."
If you need more information look online or ask your local paint dealer.
" Make mini-ghosts by taking a white plastic bag, roll another into a ball, place it (inside) at the far end of the other bag, make a tie piece by cutting a thin strip of plastic from another bag and tie around the ball, this makes a head or what will be a ghost. Use black felt market to draw a spooky face on the head. Trim the bottom of the outer bag to make it flowing. Save your rubber bands from newspapers and use them to attach to trees in the front yard. You can make as many of these as you want and cover an entire tree with ghosts."
"Use plastic bags to put wet umbrellas in, to avoid getting water on floors or rugs."
"If your children are old enough to understand the risks and dangers of plastic bags, let them keep one in their book bag to bring home dirty gym clothes. This is also a good idea for those of you who go to a gym yourself."
"Double or tipple line bags with other plastic bags, in order to dispose of broken items such as glass, light bulbs, dishes, etc. This is not only safer for your family but for the waste disposal workers as well."
"If you like to use paper bags, put one in a plastic bag, then you have handles!" - Rose V.
"To keep your garbage bags from tearing open when holding trash take a cloth bag and put your grocery bag inside it and hang on your door knot it's great when your live in a small place." - Janice M.
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Copyright © 2005 by Rachel Keller. All rights reserved.