Even zero-waste enthusiasts occasionally forget to bring reusable bags to the store. And when it happens, there’s that sinking feeling at the check-out counter, when the conveyor belt is brimming with groceries and our handy totes are nowhere in sight.
It may seem paradoxical, but if you are in a pinch, opt for plastic. Studies show that single-use plastic bags create less of an impact on the environment when considering the amount of resources and energy used to create products when compared to paper bags — and sometimes even reusable bags depending on how often they are reused. The studies also show that the overall environmental impact is even less if you are able to reuse your “single-use” plastic bags.
If you have a pile of plastic bags hiding in your kitchen, shed the shame by giving them a second life. The most obvious way is to reuse them for shopping, but if you want to be a little more creative, here are 12 handy ways you can reuse plastic bags in your daily life.
Line your garbage cans
Plastic bags are the perfect size for the small garbage cans in your bathroom or home office. Upcycling plastic bags for this purpose also eliminates the need to buy miniature garbage bags, which helps the planet — and your pocketbook — in the long run.
Handle pet waste
Plastic bags make the unpleasant task of managing your precious pet’s waste a little bit easier. If you have a dog, use plastic shopping bags to scoop that poop when you are on your daily walks. You can also use plastic bags when scooping cat litter or line the cat litter box with them.
Clean your showerhead
Whether you are spring cleaning or just addressing the build up of grime in your bathroom, you should be cleaning your showerhead (which, hopefully, is a water-efficient showerhead) every one to three months depending on the mineral quality of your municipal water supply. Forgo the intense cleaning chemicals in favor of this natural method: fill a plastic bag with distilled white vinegar, tie it around your showerhead and leave overnight to remove scum and mildew. Use an old toothbrush or toothpick to dislodge any mildew left behind in the nozzle and let run for a minute to wash the vinegar and debris away before you hop in.
Create a miniature greenhouse for your plants
A plastic bag can create the ideal conditions around your potted plants to help them thrive if you are going to be away for a week or so. Use wire coat hangers to create two U-shaped hoops on either side of a thoroughly watered potted plant and cover with a plastic bag. Tie the handles or tuck the edge of the plastic bag under the pot to create a warm, moist greenhouse environment.
Protect plants against frost
Every so often, a late spring snowstorm will catch gardeners by surprise. If you hear rumors of an upcoming frost, tie a plastic bag around your plants to protect them from the unexpected chill.
Protect valuables when packing
If you have a fat wad of single-use shopping bags, they can be upcycled as an alternative packing material for disposable foam packing peanuts and bubble wrap when storing fragile items. You can even use plastic bags to pad shipping envelopes and boxes to save a few dollars at the post office.
Especially if the bag is large and the plastic is a little sturdier (thicker bags are made from low density polyethylene, or LDPE, as opposed to the thin, filmy plastic bags which are made of high density polyethylene, HDPE), you can easily grow potatoes in plastic bags instead of transplanting them in your garden. Roll the top of the bag down and fill the bottom with a couple of inches of soil and compost mix. Plant your seed potatoes, cover and continue covering with soil and compost as potatoes grow. Keep the soil moist, and once the soil is at the brim of the bag and the flowers have died back, dump the contents and sift out the spuds.
Protect outdoor taps
If you live in a cold climate, you can protect your outdoor taps from freezing during the winter by wrapping the faucet in an old T-shirt and tying a plastic bag around them. The T-shirt will absorb any drips while the plastic bag holds it in place and provides additional insulation from the cold.
Keep your side mirrors ice-free
Again, this tip is less applicable for tropical homesteaders, but if you find yourself homesteading in a frosty area, wrapping plastic bags around the side mirrors of your car before a chilly night will help prevent ice build-up (and the inevitable morning scraping session).
Make a reusable shopping bag
The ultimate irony! If you have a lot of bags, crochet skills and some time, you can turn plastic bags into “plarn” (a portmanteau of “plastic yarn”) and weave them into a reusable tote. Check out this comprehensive DIY from Etsy.
Save paint rollers and brushes
If you have to abandon a painting project halfway through, wrap your brushes and rollers in a clean plastic grocery bag and put them in the refrigerator to keep them from drying out. When wrapped properly, a plastic bag can keep wet brushes and rollers paint-ready for several hours.
Many thrift stores, libraries, farmers markets and food banks would be happy to take your plastic bags for their customers. Ask around your community to see where your plastic bags will be most useful.
Even the most eco-conscious consumer is forgetful at times. With these tips, you can make your incidental or occasional plastic waste a little less wasteful.