Kind of frightening, but this is the kind of thing that excites me!
To get started, here are the top ten best things to do with plastic bags:
Give them away. Well, that makes sense, but who is going to appreciate a gift of a pile of plastic bags!? Actually, some people/places do! You can probably think of more with this jump start:
Charity food distributors
Charity clothing distributors or stores
Elementary school teachers
Farmer's market vendors
Find ways to store them? If you're going to save them, you have to store them somewhere, some way.
Crochet wreaths. Or rugs. Or angels. Or... use your imagination and plastic bags to make your own creations!
They're perfect for outdoor decorations for Halloween (or Christmas or Easter - use your imagination). They're waterproof and colorful.
Picker uppers for nasty stuff.
Keep a few (or more!) in your car for a multitude of uses. Use them to contain trash, the kids' books and crayons, snacks and other daily and road trip needs.
Carry food. As in food packed for a picnic or a potluck. (Put your container inside!) Roll a plastic bag into a small ball, or fold it over and over and put it in your pocket. When you need it, it expands to a full grocery bag sized container! Amazing magic! Seriously, use it to carry vegetables from the garden or wild foods. One reader said she never goes to the garden without a plastic bag or two in her pocket.
Stuffers. You know, for pillows and balloon types of curtains. For boxes of things when you want to mail them, too. And for decorative needlework figures and shapes.
They are waterproof containers. Use them to keep water in or to keep water out. Examples: Keep water in by carrying wet bathing suits in a plastic bag. Keep water out by keeping matches and paper products in a plastic bag when camping.
Use plastic bags to help get organized. Store things in them, make up "travel kits" for the kids, make your own daily travel kit to get through each morning more frugally.
Once you get started, you'll never look at a plain plastic bag the same. I don't know whether to call that a warning or a promise. Just don't go shopping for the purpose of accumulating more!
Uses for plastic bags
How many plastic bags do you have on hand? How about garbage sacks? Or bread and grocery bags? No matter how much we try, we wind up with an assortment of plastic bags unless we just throw them out, and what frugal person does that??
Being a frugal person with a little green bent, and a hoarder of sorts, too, I cringe when I have too many plastic bags on hand. I just have to get busy and use them up some way.
If you know more ways, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let's see how many uses there really are for the lowly plastic bag.
Caution: Some are concerned that lead MAY be present in the ink/paint used on bread wrappers. I've not been able to find out, but to be sure, don't use bread sacks inside out.
I have made figures of stuffed clothing.
Some look like scarecrows, some scary for Halloween, some like cowboys in jeans, and some made like Santa Claus. Stuffed with plastic bags, they are lightweight and will not get waterlogged as the outside clothing will dry quickly. I usually give them away but always have one in my yard. They can be redressed, more bags added if needed, and will last several years even outside.
Cut bags into strips and crochet, knit, weave, or needlepoint a door mat, or a tub or shower mat.
Wear between your socks and shoes to keep your feet dry whether your shoes stay dry or not.
You can freeze food in bread sacks, it just won't keep as well as heavier plastic. If you have food you'll use up within a month, it's wasteful to use expensive freezer bags. Save those for the long term storage.
Use larger ones to line trash cans. Gladys adds: Keep a few extra in the bottom of the trashcan, so there is always another one to put in.
Use as disposable gloves for tasks that don't need fine finger use.
Cover a paint brush with plastic bags when you go for a break, or even overnight. Make sure the bag is closed tightly and your paint won't dry out on the brush.
Carry one or more with you when you go walking to pick up aluminum cans, trash or treasure.
Keep grocery bags in your car to tie around your knees in case you have to change a flat tire in your good clothes.
Many thanks to you readers for the following ideas!
If you wrinkle them up, they are good packing material when moving, sending packages, or storing Christmas stuff.
Carry a few in the diaper bag to hold soiled clothes and wet/dirty diapers.
Put dirty rags in a plastic grocery bag and tie a knot with the handles and dump in laundry bag without fear of making everything else smelly or dirty.
Put delicate (or easily dirtied) clothes you will clean later or bring to the drycleaner in grocery bag and tie a knot with the handles and dump in laundry bag without fear of having them get dirtier or smellier than they already are.
Use dark garbage bag to cover expensive stuff sitting on back seat or behind front seats in your car.
Use plastic bags instead of plastic wrap to put pizza or other food in the refrigerator.
Return them to grocery store: sometimes they give money for them (like 5 cents each).
Use them when walking your dog to clean up deposits. With your hand inside the bag, pick up the pile, then turn the bag inside out while still on your hand, tie and drop in the trash.
Sponge paint with them instead of buying an expensive sea sponge. Crumple, dip in roller pan, dab on paper, and apply randomly to the wall.
A reader bought a bed skirt at Goodwill that came with pillow shams. She didn't have extra pillows to put in them, and she didn't want to spend money for them, so she took a couple of old pillowcases, stuffed them full of plastic bags, pinned shut with safety pins, and popped into the shams. As they flatten out, she can add more bags. These are not comfortable to lay on, but for decoration, you cannot tell the difference.
Sometimes this reader takes popcorn to work as a snack. She carries it in a reused bread bag.
I use my excess plastic bags to fill draught excluders, the long snake like things you put in frount of doors to stop hot air from escaping. I make them using old fleecy tracksuit pants. Cut the leg off the pants and split it open along the seam, then cut it to the length and thickness you want. Sew it into a tube, sew up one end, and stuff it tightly with excess plastic bags and sew the other end up.
This reader's son wears cloth diapers at home, but has to use disposables at daycare. Sometimes after they get home, he has a BM in his disposable. To keep odors down, she wraps the diaper in the plastic bag the diapers came in, or in a grocery store bag. These go into the trash can. Same principle as the Diaper Genie, but less expense and waste.
Use flat bags taped to your bench as a wonderful non-stick and disposable surface on which to roll pastry (you may need to still use a little flour). You can also cover your rolling pin tightly in it. The pastry peels off like the backing on prebought pastry sheets.
More uses for plastic bags
To add to the idea of using them for soiled diapers, I hang a plastic grocery bag next to the changing table out of reach of the little ones. Wet diapers go directly in the grocery bag. Soiled diapers go into the long plastic bags the newspaper is delivered in, or produce bags from the grocery store, tied shut to minimize the odor, and then into the grocery bag. At bedtime, right before I shut off the lights, I grab the bag, and the baby's day of work goes into the trash!
Plastic bags make a good filler for craft projects that require stuffing as long as the item is not going to be used as a toy or cushion. Left over pieces of yarn and strips of plastic bags do a great job in such decorative items as Christmas ornaments that require some type of stuffing to give them shape .
This reader's niece made a lovely holiday wreath from plastic bags...
she got a wire rim from a craft store and tied each bag around the rim and then 'fluffed' them after she squeezed as many as she could onto the wire rim... then she added one large red ribbon and several bunches of holly berries. Added to by another reader: Use a wire clothes hanger for the base, just bend it into a circle, (and keep the top for hanging, if you wish - Pat). Cut plastic bags into wide strips and tie them on it, then glue ornaments to them.]
For a foot-beauty treatment apply any kind of creme or lotion to all areas of your toes and feet, then cover with a plastic bag tied loosely, then a sock over that. Wear it around the house or to bed.
One reader says that handled grocery bags make great refrigerator storage containers for large bowls of food. She just puts the bowl or pan at the bottom of the bag, pulls it up over the sides and ties it.
She also uses the same handle tie grocery bags to put raw meat or poultry in the refrigerator so they can't leak onto the shelves and cause bacteria problems.
This was sent in from Pearl Sanborn of Heart and Home: Make braided rag rugs from all those plastic grocery bags!
Cut off the bottoms and tops (handles)
Cut across the bag to make a loop (cutting across the middle)
Take 3 pieces and begin to braid
Add in strips as needed
When you have a nice braid going start at the beginning of the braid and start rolling it into the rug shape.
Use something to sew it into place - thread, fishing line, string, etc..
Make rug as large as you want it
She says - you can use these as door mats, throw rugs, put them in your garden, patio, greenhouse etc...... (they are water safe ;)
Another reader saw artists re-using plastic bags in Europe to crochet lovely clutch bags and costume accessories like bar pins, buttons, hair clutches, etc. She says -Plastic bags were cleaned, sorted according to colors and cut into thread-like pieces and wound like yarn. They would crochet this plastic thread, mixing and matching colors into useful objects like clutch bags. I saw a wall tapestry crocheted from plastic bag yarn! To create a smooth look, the artists would run an iron placed on very low setting over the finished crafts. I have in my collection of east European souvenirs a clutch bag made from the plastic bags of one of the top department stores in Bucharest.
In the Philippines, this reader saw local seamstresses recycle plastic bags this way: out of fabric remnants, they would sew tote bags, then plastic bags were carefully cut into flat panels, gathered into layers of three and used as 'batting' to give the totes waterproof quality.
Third graders in this reader's children's school use plastic bags as material to make sails of boats and ships or lion's mane or horse's tails in their arts and crafts and recycle-reuse courses.
A frugal journalist uses plastic bags from newspapers as file keeper and clipping organizer. When he clips his newspapers for stories and ideas, he encases these newsclips in the plastic sleeves, cut nicely to fit a 3-ring binder, closing with a wee bit of masking tape.
Another reader writes that her son cleans the litter box a little faster and easier, by putting the mess in the bag and taking it straight outside.
This reader's mom uses plastic bags to store sweaters, sweatshirts and other bulky things in her closet. She places the bags into large boxes in order to stack them. I do the same thing, but only to store out-of-season clothing. (Great under the bed, in the attic, etc. - keeps the clothes or what-not clean and bug-free.)
Another use for plastic grocery bags is to store flour and sugar. Tie each 5 lb sack in a grocery bag and store in a dark place. From a reader: The suggestion of using a plastic bag for a childs apron is good, but it encourages children to play with them which are a serious suffocation risk - especially if you have taught them to put one over their heads in the form of an apron!
Cut bags down the side so they lie flat, and use several in this manner as a drip sheet when painting models, fingernails, or other messy things.
More uses for plastic bags
Using white grocery bags and permanent markers, make ghost wind-socks for halloween. Sort grocery bags by color and make ghosts with white bags and Frankenstein with grey bags by drawing different facial expressions on each one. Tie string on three sides(use clear packing tape so the plastic doesn't rip)and hang in a tree or patio.
Make bows of orange and black garbage bags. Make little pumpkin and ghost pouches to stuff with leaves and hang.
A reader's daughter saves aluminum cans for recycling. She bought a large orange leaf bag with a witch design on it, so she filled it with her pop cans rather then her leaves, set it on the lawn as a decoration and after halloween, she took the whole thing to the recycle depot.
This reader saw a unique application using plastic bags - a row home with a fenced front yard where they had bent a rod of some kind and attached it on either side of their gate ...then tied plastic bag strips on the arch - with holly berries and ribbon worked in - it's lovely and waterproof, too!
Another reader says that he uses grocery bags when cleaning up after his dogs in the back yard.
He places a bag inside a 5 gallon bucket and drapes the handles over the side so it stays put. He says that with a Great Dane and and Irish Setter, it sometimes takes more than one, but at least he's not wasting them.
Make a hair scrunchie from a bag thats longer than it is wide, by cutting the bottom out and inserting a cut rubber band. Tie the rubber band back together, then pull one end of the bag deeply inside the other, and turn under the raw end.
This reader uses a plastic bag as a salad spinner. She lines a bag with a light towel or a few papertowels. Place your washed lettuce/greens inside and spin the bag around. If the bag gets wrapped too tightly, let it dangle and spin the other direction to loosen and start spinning again. Centrifugal force works like a charm!
Another reader tells us that plastic bags can be used to make balloon curtains poof out, and the outside effect is just the same as tissue. She uses the grocery store size for this. Another reader adds: I hung pouffy valances over the windows. I wanted them to be really puffed out, so I just stuffed lots of plastic grocery bags in the valances and they are beautiful. I don't worry about them losing their shape, because the plastic stays in place balled up.
A reader says that when they put away the Christmas decorations each year, she puts each string of Christmas lights in its own plastic grocery bag and ties it shut. No more tangled light strings.
This reader says when she gets a good clump of grocery store bags (both paper and plastic) she takes them to the local food/clothing bank. They are glad to get them and she knows they are re-used. Some of the clients bring the bags back for several weeks until worn out.
She also drops the bags at her local thrift shop - same principle; and since she buys some clothes there, she returns (or declines in the first place) their bags for reuse!
Another reader uses them: Put several on your hand to serve as protection from poison ivy. Just pull up the plant with the bagged hand, carefully turn bag inside out and dispose of properly. No ivy touches your hand and no poisons are used.
Another use for the plastic grocery sacks is to donate them to daycare and preschool centers. Many times they use them to send home soiled clothes.
Another reader says: I bundle and take them to the library. They especially need them for rainy days or people checking out videos. They love to see me coming with a bunch.
I use plastic bags when breading chicken, chops or coating vegetables with flour and cornmeal mixtures. I just put all of my seasoning into the bag, wet the meat or vegetables and let them sit for a while so that the flour coating is thick. Then put it into the hot fat to fry.
A reader writes this: When you take a loaf of bread out of your bread maker (or out of the oven) pop it directly into a plastic grocery bag. Leave it for about 10-15 minutes, remove it and wrap it in a towel until cool, then return it to a plastic bag for storage. this method gives you a loaf of bread with a nice, soft crust.
I keep all of my lunchmeat/cheese, sandwich bags, condiments, etc all in one bag instead of the deli drawer, of my fridge. When it is time to make a sandwich, everything I need is right there.
When working for a rather frugal vet, we placed an empty litter box inside a plastic bag, then put a scoop of cat litter in the box on top of the plastic (Just enough litter so the cat could scratch and cover). Then when we needed to clean the box, we took the bag off and tossed it in the trash, put on a new bag, a new scoop of litter, and had a clean box. At one point we used cardboard box tops from beer cases discarded from grocery stores and set them inside plastic bags for litter boxes. The bags kept the cardboard dry, and when the cat left, we threw the whole thing away.
More uses for plastic bags
I place several bags filled with meat or whatever in a large paper grocery bag to prevent freezer burn and make a list with a permanent marker on the outside of the paper bag so I will know at a glance what is inside.
When I have to work in a wet garden or other muddy site, I tie plastic grocery bags on the OUTSIDE of my shoes. The mud can't clump onto the loose plastic like it does to shoes or boots.
In the fall after I've cleaned up my fans I cover them with a grocery bag before storing in the garage.
Similar to donating to the thrift shops, my Library will give you a free plastic bag to carry tons of kid's or mom's library books home. They sell nice cloth bags for $10 or you can just use the plastic bags for free. I donate my extra bags to the library.
A reader writes: Whenever I take a casserole or other dish of cooked food to a dinner, I put the dish in a double-sack of plastic bags.
Center the dish in the bottom; twist the handles and then tie firmly with a twisty or tie the handles together firmly. This keeps drippings off of your car floors or seat and keeps foods clean in transport. You also have a handle to carry them to the hostess.
This reader says: I use them in my van as trash collectors. I loop the bag handles around the seat armrests in the front. Recently I've also put one in the rear of the van which has captains seats. Each time I need to gas up the van, I can throw the whole bag away.
From another reader: I use them to put leaky containers inside (plastic bottles which don't have a tight seal - I use to transport liquids to work). Once I get there I just toss the bag and wipe off the bottle/container. Saves work and made use of those free bags.
This reader says: I got tired of finding all kinds of little toys laying around my 4 year olds room and my house so I bought a big storage box and divided her toys into bags: McDonald toys in one, plastic food in another, plastic dishes in another, toy animals in another, etc. and put them into the plastic storage box. Now she is allowed to have 2 bags of toys out at one time and has to put the toys back in the bags and into the storage box before she can get any more toys out. It has cut down on pick up time and stepping on toys all the time.
This readers says: I use them to create activity kits. I always keep a bag with scraps of fabrics, needles, thread and scissors for impromptu quilting. You can also make rainy day kid activity kits with crayons, paper, glue sticks, etc. These are great for the I'm bored blues or even on road trips. Another reader adds: My son is learning how to cook, so I will assemble all of the ingredients for a simple snack or meal and bag them up. It keeps everything together for him and the babysitter. He really looks forward to checking out the fridge to see what new cooking challenge is each afternoon.
My grownup daughters and I pass magazines, refund items, clothes and whatever between us. Each of us place these items in used plastic bags to be picked up by the owner when she comes to our homes.
Use freezer bags to store foods cooked in advance such as hot dogs - buns and all - the same goes for hamburgers - just use a microwave to warm them up!
Use them with your vacuum cleaner to make your own frugal "shrink and store" bags instead of paying major bucks for the kind with the valve built in. Just fold your blankets, sweaters, whatever neatly and set them in a plastic bag. Twist it around the hose of your vacuum cleaner and suck the air out! To seal, just slide the twisted bag off the hose while twisting it tighter, then fold it over and tape it down. Be careful not to rip the bag!
Another reader says: I use them with either short stakes or a round of low fencing to protect my early transplants. First I put them over the plants to protect from sun, wind, and at night cold, with a couple of slits in the top (the top contracts with the cold and expands with heat to ventilate the young plant.) Then as the plant grows I cut the top of the bag off. By now there should be no frost but the plastic still acts as a wind break. Later I pull it down the stakes, or take it off completely.
I also grab one when I step into the garden; much easier to stuff a few bags in your pocket and pull one out to fill with beets, another with carrots, or some lettuce, oh, and lovely onions. Friends have a non-returnable container in which to take their fresh produce home!
Another use is to cut a bag into strips to hold vines and canes and other plants in place, just don't tie them too tightly.
A cup of sand/dirt in the bottom makes a great impromptu horseshoe pitching or toss toy for the yard.
I made a princess costume for my daughter for Halloween. Rather than buy a crinoline or spend money to make one, I cut a length of elastic. I strung lots of plastic bags by the handles onto it. They were the perfect length. You couldn't tell the difference, and it made the wonderful "swishing" noise when she walked.
More uses for plastic bags
Plastic bags with handles can be used for aprons for small children's arts and crafts projects. Cut each one across the bottom, pop the bag over the child's head with arms through holes--handles up as straps. If straps are too long and bag goes too far down the front of clothing, pull handles up and tie into a knot to make it fit better.
This reader says: I recently had a pile of brush that I needed to bundle up for garbage day. I couldn't find any string to tie it up, but eventually ran across our pile of plastic grocery bags and thought of a roll of plastic I had recently seen at the hardware store that could be used as twine. I took the bags and cut/ripped them in half as if I'd taken each handle and pulled the bag apart. I now had two pieces, each with a handle on one end.
I poked a hole at the other end where the 'v' is on the bottom of the bag. I now had a piece with a hole either end. The pieces can then be pulled through a loop of one of the other pieces and looped back though itself. By combining several pieces I had a surprisingly long, strong, and cheap rope which I used to tie up my brush pile for the garbage man.
Take a walk with one, it's amazing what you can find. I found fresh rosemary clippings, pecans and walnuts in the street close to where I live. What a bargain price, they were all free !
When you are using a special hair treatment that needs leaving in for longer than five minutes, tie a plastic bag around your wet hair and fasten the excess above your forehead with a twist tie or rubber band.
Inevitably when children go on camps, water activites are part of the fun. Here is an old hiker's secret. Prevent saturated backpack contents by placing everything inside a garbage-size bag, tying with a twist-tie and THEN placing it inside the pack. Even if the pack falls in a lake, your clothes should stay reasonably dry!
Thicker, vinyl-ish plastic bags make great packs for long-time storage of old notebooks, magazines, artwork, deeds etc. They are "acid free" and keep out paper-eating insects such as silverfish. Colorcode them and/or label them with an oil-based marker, then stick in the desired stack of paper, fold the top over twice, and seal right across with heavy stickytape.
Big black garbage bags make excellent disposable raincoats for camping when you sut arm holes and a head hole in the sides and bottom. Compact, light to carry in your pack and useful!
You can also cut thicker bags to be flat, and use them to cover books or recipe cards so that they are wipe-down when you are cooking(use a clear bag for a recipe card).
Plastic bags are useful for crushing biscuits to make crumbs, eg for cheesecake, or for beating meat to tenderise it. Place in a bag, tie or hold the open end, and bash away! No mess, no fuss!
Or, if you have a dough such as playdough that you are working food colouring though, food colour stains laminated or plastic benchtops so put the dough inside the bag, add a few drops of colour, tie the bag and knead away. Throw away the bag when finished, or use it to store playdough and keep it moist. Easy!
I save my plastic bags and scoop the used cat litter and deposits in litter into a bag every day. This way I can use the litter longer and get the mess out of the house. I keep an old plastic litter pail to put filled plastic bags into, then throw them out on garbage day. No smell, no mess. Another reader adds: I use an automated cat litter pan which scoops by itself and dumps into a disposable plastic container. I line the container with a plastic grocery bag and tuck the ends under and out of the way. When it's is full I pull up the handles, lift the bag, tie the handles together and toss into the garbage can.
Cut a bottom corner off heavier plastic bags and use to squeeze icing, cookie dough, etc through.
Use recycled bags to take your pop cans and bottles to the recycling depot.
Tuck a plastic bag under your bike seat, then if it gets wet in the rain while you're shopping or whatever, pull the bag out, slip it over the wet seat, and ride off in comfort!
Line your backpack inside with a plastic bag on wet days.
Food pantries need bags, both plastic and paper to pack the food that they give away free. Donate your spare bags and get to know your local food pantry.
Use them for shower caps. Find one that fits, or use a larger one and tie it around your head, rolling a cuff to keep it in place better.
In the car I keep a bag on the floor under the driver's seat. Sometimes I want to separate what I buy, such as toys for the grandkids or personal items.
I store plastic grocery bags by hanging one on the inside of a small pantry. I used a short carpet staple for each handle to attach it to the door. The staple keeps the open end of the bag close to the door so that it doesn't flop around as much as when they're hung on hooks. I then nip a small hole on the bottom (I did it on a corner), and stuff it with the bags I want to keep.