Recently, I’ve been reading quite a few anti-plastic bag articles that contain statements like, “Plastic bags are evil,” and advocate taking all your plastic bags to the local recycler and replacing them immediately with reusable bags.
Now, as you know, I’m all for refusing new plastic bags while shopping and bringing my own reusable bags with me. I don’t see any need for the creation of new plastic bags in this world, not with all the environmental problems associated with their manufacture and disposal.
But once a bag has been created, once it’s already here in this world, is it really evil? I don’t think so. In fact, a few weeks ago I posted an ad to my local Freecycle group requesting used plastic grocery bags from anyone who had a bunch they weren’t going to use. Why? Because far from being evil, plastic grocery bags are quite handy.
Look at it this way. If we’re all trying to reduce the amount of new plastic we buy, what will we use in place of things like plastic cling wrap, freezer bags, sandwich baggies if we’ve given away all our plastic grocery bags to the recycler? Sure, we’ve got our reusable tote. But it doesn’t take the place of produce bags for our cherries and grapes and dirty potatoes.
I’ve already written about the convenience of plastic grocery bags to be reused over and over again as grocery bags. They fold up small, fit in a purse or backpack or even wallet, and can be used in a pinch when we’ve forgotten to bring our organic cotton tote bag into the store with us.
If we switch from buying bread packaged in plastic bags to fresh-baked bread wrapped in paper (or even bake our own), we can store the loaf in a reused plastic grocery bag to keep it from drying out. (It does dry out mighty fast otherwise.) In fact, we can use plastic grocery bags to store all sorts of food in the cupboard or refrigerator or freezer. For freezer storage, I think it’s best to use several layers of bags.
And as I’ve also mentioned, plastic bags can be washed and reused many times before they are ready for the recycle bin. Just rinse them in the sink and hang to dry. I’ve even heard of some folks hanging them on the clothes line. Once you get used to it, cleaning a plastic bag is no different than washing the dishes.
I’ve found quite a few web sites listing alternative uses for plastic grocery bags. And while many of these suggestions are helpful, a few of them seem to miss the point. Plastic grocery bags are too valuable to be used for trashcan liners or for cat litter or dog poop or anything else that will be thrown into the garbage. Let’s use old newspaper or other biodegradable alternatives for that. The landfill is not the place for items that last virtually forever.
Instead, let’s use old plastic bags to carry wet bathing suits, or to separate clean from dirty clothes in a suitcase, or as makeshift rain hats or covers for wet umbrellas, or as packing material for shipping (you could include a note asking the recipient to further reuse or recycle the bags). Check out the following links, but be careful about whether the recommended use will prolong the life of the bag or doom it to landfill hell:
- Real Simple: 10 Smart Uses For Used Plastic Bags
- Real Simple: 20 More Ways to Reuse Old Plastic (and Paper) Bags
- 63 Uses For Walmart Bags
- The Frugal Life: Uses For Plastic Bags
And these are just a few links. The Net is full of them. Just Google “uses for plastic bags” to find ways to reuse plastic grocery bags in place of new plastic items that you might otherwise buy.
What’s that? Oh, Tina wants to chime in about all the crafts we can do with plastic bags, like knitting or crocheting or weaving or even sewing. But I already wrote that post back in July. I’m planning to turn a whole bunch of grocery bags into one knitted reusable tote bag. Soon. When I have nothing else to do.
My point is that in our haste to become “green,” we need to keep our common sense and refrain from discarding things, even into the recycling bin, that might not seem eco-friendly on the outside but could actually help us to save precious resources. Reduce, by not taking home any new plastic bags; Reuse, by finding as many extra uses as we can for the bags we have; Recycle, after our bags are thoroughly used up.
After all, most of the plastic that already exists is not going away. We might as well make friends with as much of it as we can.