By Karen M. Harris for Home Rehab Online
Even with the world going green, plastic bags seem to be everywhere. Americans use approximately 1 billion shopping bags a year, but they recycle less than 1 percent of that amount, sending 300,000 tons into landfills, according to the Clean Air Council. Those bags that are dumped into landfills don’t biodegrade. Instead, sunlight breaks them down into particles that contaminate our soil and water.
Why let this happen when there’s a solution? It’s easy and eco-friendly to reuse plastic shopping and sandwich bags. Try these ideas to put plastic bags to new use. (Of course, remember to wash well before reuse!)
- Pastry bag. Why buy a pastry bag when you can use sandwich bags? Put your icing, deviled egg mixture or whipped potatoes into a sealable bag and push the air out. Seal the bag and snip off a corner. Start with a small hole and try to pipe. If necessary, you can make the hole larger.
- Funnel. Just snip a corner off, fill and funnel. You’ll be able to pour anything from peppercorns into a peppermill to olive oil into a decorative container.
- Cheese storage. Fresh cheese just tastes better than pre-shredded. Save the time of having to grate cheese for every pizza and make up a bulk batch. Double-bag and store in the fridge or freezer to preserve freshness.
- Chocolate melter. Mess free! Put chocolate in a sealable freezer bag. Fill a pan or bowl with hot water. Put the bag in the water and, in a few minutes, you’ll have melted chocolate. Double duty alert! Snip off a corner of the bag and you have an instant pastry bag (see above).
- Closet cedar. Love the smell of cedar but don’t have the cash to do your whole closet? Buy a bag of hamster bedding chips and place a handful in a resealable sandwich bag. Punch some holes in the bag and hang it on a hanger in the closet. The cedar will also keep fabric-munching moths at bay.
- Pencil case. Make sure your students always have pens, pencils and crayons ready by putting some in a zippered sandwich bag. Punch three holes in the bottom of the bag and slip it onto the rings of a three-ring binder for even more organization.
- Makeup case. Keep your luggage free of goopy spills by putting toiletries into plastic bags. You can do this for jewelry too. Use one bag per “outfit” so that necklace and earrings are together, and all your necklaces don’t get tangled into one mess.
- Clutter keeper. Corral junk drawer items in bags. This is perfect for batteries, marbles, crafters beads and even rubber bands and clothespins.
- Cold pack. Freeze a wet washcloth (or several of them) in a sandwich or freezer bag so you’ll always be ready when the kids twist an ankle or hit their head.
- Baby wipe holder. Save some money by making your own baby-safe wipes, then storing them in zipper-lock sandwich bags. The earth-friendly wipes will stay wet for months. To make the wipes (courtesy of www.babies411.com): Cut a roll of paper towels in half width-wise. Place the paper towels in a deep bowl. Combine 2 cups water, 2 tablespoons baby wash or shampoo, and 1 to 2 tablespoons of baby or olive oil. Pour liquid over towels and soak through. After 10 minutes, flip the roll over. Take the cardboard center out, place the paper towels in a sandwich bag and you’ll be able to pull the wipes out one by one.
- Package padding. Foam packing peanuts usually end up in the landfill, plus they’re a nightmare to clean up. Create an eco-friendly home by using plastic grocery bags to protect valuable items you plan to ship. Include a note asking the recipient to reuse the bags.
- Produce keeper. The fruit and veggie bags from the produce section are perfect to reuse the next time you go grocery shopping. Toss them in your tote and reuse during your next trip to the grocery store or farmer’s market. If the bags get wet, hang them to dry to prevent mildew.
- Hand protectors. Not looking forward to that messy job? Put grocery bags on your hands for cleaning the toilet or paintbrushes. You can also put one on when the phone rings and you’re wrist-deep in pie dough.
- Flower pot fixer. Instead of tossing that cracked flower pot or vase, re-glue the container and slip a plastic bag inside. It’ll be ready for peonies in no time.
- Purse reshaper. Handbags should be stored upright, not piled on the closet floor. Help them keep their shape between uses by stuffing them with crumpled plastic bags.
- Paint pal. Whether you’re doing arts and crafts or painting the bedroom, plastic bags have many uses. Wrap wet paintbrushes while you grab lunch to prevent the brushes from drying out. Slip one over a paint tray, or put a smaller bag in the bottom, to make cleanup a breeze. Put them under trays and cans to catch drips and spills. Spray paint a small item inside the bag to prevent splatters.
- Crochet material. Because bags are so durable, they make great “yarn” projects. You can crochet everything from slippers to clothing; find inspiration at BagsBeGone.
- Pet pillow. When the padding in Fido’s bed isn’t so fluffy anymore, take it out and replace it with crumpled plastic bags. Or, if you’re handy, make your own pet pillows for friends and family and the local shelter. Sew two pieces of fabric together (with a zipper on one end for easy restuffing). Pack with used plastic shopping bags.
- Travel mate. Keep clothes clean in your suitcase by placing shoes in grocery bags. Use another one as a laundry bag to keep dirty duds away from clean. You can use them for short trips, too: put wet bathing suits in a bag to contain the drips on the way home (just remember to take it out when you get home!).
- Small wastebasket. Grocery bags are a perfect fit for bathroom or bedroom wastebaskets. You can reuse the bags over several cleaning frenzies if you’re just tossing in used paper towels and other non-icky disposables. Keep a few bags on the bottom of the wastebasket for a quick change when you do need a refresher.
[About the author: Karen M. Harris is an Associated Press-award-winning journalist who has written for magazines such as Runner’s World, Orange magazine, Aspire and Shawn Elliot Luxury. She is managing editor for the wellness website Zenfully Delicious. She has also edited the Gilded Fork Entertaining at Home: A Year of Dinner Parties.]