The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

September 17, 2007

Some of my best friends are plastic bags!

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:

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.

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Kathy G

I usually lurk on your blog, but this post tied in with a thread on a chat group I subscribe to, so I referenced it to the group. Hope you don’t mind!

I’m looking to take the next green step and reduce my use of plastic bags…it just seems like the right thing to do.


While I appreciate the idea of re-use of plastic bags, I have to state that we need to eliminate these gross polluters as a staple of daily life. The fact is that we currently have a “toxic garbage island” floating in our ocean (Google it) that consists of plastics and is about the size of the state of Texas. The breakdown of plastics in the ocean, including the plastic bag, is of great concern and has been linked to high rates of miscarriage in women in certain asian fishing villages as well as hormonal abnormalities in fish such as males… Read more »


I would like to first reveal my bias in that I have earned a living selling plastic bags for 29 years. I love the planet and want to preserve it as much as anyone. I have noted some problems with some of the suggestions here which may not be obvious to those without the experience and knowledge of the limitations of re-use, how the bags are produced, etc. 1. The FDA and USDA require manufacturers to use virgin (non-recycled) raw materials for any bags destined for food, pharmaceutical products, medical items, etc. This is because used plastic cannot be cleaned… Read more »

Beth Terry

Hi Rejin. You make a good point about finding alternatives to plastic, and I’m all about that. But finding alternatives doesn’t address the plastic that is already with us. My feeling is that energy and resources have already been expended to create these plastic items. Recycling a perfectly good plastic bag and replacing it with a non-plastic alternative uses more energy and resources to create the new non-plastic item (as well as to recycle the plastic bag.) For me, slowing the creation of new items and instead reusing items that already exist is the most economical and environmentally-friendly way to… Read more »

Rejin L

Beth, you make a good point about finding the best uses for the plastic we already have. But I am uncomfotable about looking for more ways to use it. Doesn’t it prolong our dependence on plastic (bags) if we get creative about how to use them? This feels too much like what corporations do: finding more things to make out of plastic. I prefer the idea of phasing plastic out of our lives, and finding or making non-plastic alternatives.


Great post – keep up the good work you’re doing. It counts!

heather t

Excellent points! I want to make a tote too, but I have TOO MANY PROJECTS!

Radical Garbage Man

Perhaps a key consideration in the landfilling department is volume. If you can use a very small (already used to the point of trashability) plastic bag or small amount of non-recyclable paper, that is probably the superior method for disposing of pet waste or other “untouchable” garbage. Using a whole plastic grocery bag for one bit of pet waste seems wasteful (as would using a whole sheet of newspaper). My folks have their own little waste management hierarchy for sandwich bags. First they hold people food, then they hold dog food then they hold dog waste. (I’d prefer they find… Read more »

terrible person

Here is another article on plastic bags not being properly reused…

Beth Terry

Hi, Jesse. You are correct that many things do not biodegrade in a landfill. But the issue about whether to put plastic there or not is multi-fold. Since plastic comes from oil, which is a non-renewable resource, I think it’s important to conserve it as much as possible. Forests can be sustainably managed, but oil wells cannot. Drilling for oil is highly polluting, as is creating new plastic. I don’t like landfills and I don’t encourage putting things into them. However, if you have something like cat litter and you are not able to compost it and it’s just going… Read more »

- jesse

I thought that anything that ends up in landfills doesn’t decompose anyway since essentially a giant bin liner is put over the ground first prohibiting any bacteria/microbes needed to decompose things from entering? I agree with reusing. I reuse ziplocs for bulk items (including bread) but I use some org cotton produce bags for my produce (if any – with the CSA I just use a giant reused vinyl tote I’ve had for 5 years) to carry the stuff home and then reusable Gladware to store it in the ‘fridge. Your point about newspaper and litter is interesting. I usually… Read more »


You so eloquently stated what I could not when my roommate found me picking plastic bags she threw away out of the trash so I could use them later! Great post.


I love this! Thoughtful, funny, true. The picture of the tea party is hilarious. Thanks for making me re-think the “evil” lurking in my house.


Excellent point, Beth! Plus, I bet if you made a bunch of those “I’M A REUSABLE PLASTIC BAG” bags, you could sell them online at as a trendy, environmentally-friendly alternative. Probably make a nice profit ;-)

Love your blog!


I’m with you on this one Beth! Common sense and frugality should take precedence. Have a great day!