You Can Live Without Single-Use Plastic Bags – Here’s How

Plastic bag bans are on the rise. Single-use plastic bag re-users take heart. It is possible to live sans single-use plastic bags without buying kitchen garbage can liners or pet waste bags. This post will show you how.

Tree with Plastic Bags Hanging On itWhen Sten Gustaf Thulin’s one-piece “t-shirt” plastic shopping bag idea was patented in 1965, perhaps he thought it would provide retailers with a strong, lighter weight and lower cost alternative to paper shopping bags. And it did. Fast forward several decades. The “t-shirt” bag has morphed into the single-use plastic bag, a bane to municipalities, recyclers, and our planet.

Single-use plastic bags are lightweight and prone to flight. They end up as litter along roads and highways, clog storm drains, pollute waterways, wash up on beaches, and harm wildlife. Increasingly, municipalities, counties, and even states faced with staffing restrictions and tight budgets are getting fed up with single-use plastic bag waste and are passing bag bans.

The Plastic State of Mind video below explains the issue with music and humor. Check it out.

In addition to opposition from plastic bag makers, bag ban proposals sometimes generate complaints and heated exchanges from the general public. Shoppers used to getting free plastic bags at the store don’t want to pay for plastic bags to line their kitchen garbage cans or to pick up and dispose of pet waste.

What is a single-use plastic bag re-user to do? An easy, no cost solution already exists in your home.

Packaging Galore

It seems as if almost everything we buy at a grocery market, retail store, or online comes in some kind of packaging, perhaps multiple layers. The products we purchase offer a treasure trove of containers, boxes, jars, bottles, bags, tubs, sacks, wrappings, pouches, and cartons.

Sometimes the packaging is removed and discarded before we use a product, like toilet paper, 6-packs of socks, or anything in one of those impossible-to-open plastic containers popular for electronics. In other cases, the packaging is used to store the product during use and then discarded, like a breakfast cereal container.

Depending on if one recycles or not, some packaging is recycled and the rest is tossed in the trash and later ends up in a landfill. A not insignificant amount of resources and energy go into to making all this packaging and some of it can be repurposed or reused at least Author's Reusable Shopping Bagsonce. Most people probably already practice at least some packaging reuse. For instance, by reusing a mayonnaise jar to store grease drippings, putting leftovers in a sour cream container, or taking a sandwich to school or work in a bread bag.

With a few reusable shopping bags and the packaging from the products we already purchase, we can eliminate the need for single-use plastic bags.

One Week Packaging Experiment

Try the following packaging experiment for one week, two for small households.

  1. Repurpose a cardboard box, plastic crate, or laundry basket for use a packaging collection box.
  2. Place the collection box in a convenient and visible location such as the kitchen pantry, laundry room, or garage.
  3. Author's Plastic Crate with Plastic and Paper PackagingFor the next week or two, place all packaging and empty containers (except from raw meat) into the collection box. Even stuff you would normally put in the recycle bin. Dump out crumbs and rinse out packages if needed. Don’t forget packaging from non-food items and things that are delivered to your home. Add another collection box if necessary. You will probably be amazed at how much packaging you collect.
  4. Next go through your collection and think of ways the various containers and packaging can be repurposed or reused at least one time, like to dispose of messy kitchen or pet waste.
  5. Decide which kind of packaging you can and will repurpose and reuse and make this part of your normal household routine. It takes about 3 weeks to create a new habit so within a month you will no longer need single-use bags for kitchen garbage can liners or pet waste disposal.

The Bag Ban Comes to Your Town

Imagine the bag ban has come to your town. You have just emptied your kitchen garbage into the trash collection receptacle and said goodbye to the final single-use plastic bag from your stash. You picture pork chop bones, leftover takeout, and banana peels being tossed into your naked kitchen garbage can. Yuk.

You grudgingly grab your wallet or purse and pick up the car keys to head for the store where you’ll purchase your first box of plastic kitchen garbage can liners. As you step into the garage, you spot the box containing the results from your packaging experiment. A pizza box calls out to be filled with vegetable peelings, a frozen pea bag begs for greasy paper towels, and a cereal box liner clamors for chicken bones. You pause and realize you already have the means at hand to keep your kitchen garbage can yuk-free without single-use plastic bags or putting out any extra cash.

You smile and walk to the park.

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Plastic Bag Dryer — Save Money and Go Green

Plastic storage bags are useful for carrying and storing food items, and things like wet socks and small toys. Why toss or recycle them after one use? Isn’t that throwing away money and resources?

When we began trying to minimize plastic and paper bags of any sort, we looked at our plastic storage and produce bags in a new light. We decided to see if rinsing them out, drying them and reusing them was really the hassle I had imagined it would be.

At first we rinsed out bags, washed with soap if needed, and hung them on various things around the kitchen (paper towel holder, dish drainer, ketchup bottle, etc.). I had seen plastic bag drying racks for sale online, they looked like they would work, but I just didn’t want to buy something for drying plastic bags.

Author's DIY Plastic Bag Drying RackDo-It-Yourself Plastic Bag Drying Rack

My exceedingly handy spouse came to the rescue and made a plastic bag drying rack out of scrap materials hanging around our garage. For those who do not have the materials on hand, they can be easily purchased at a hardware store.

Materials

  • 1-5” x 8” piece of scrap plastic
  • 3-30 inch long pieces of 12-gauge solid THHN building electrical wire
  • 2-4 ½ inch long pieces of self adhesive foam tape

Equipment

  • Wire cutters
  • Drill (hand or electric)
  • Hot-melt Glue Gun
  • Scissors or X-acto knife

Assembly

  1. Drill 6 holes in the scrap plastic base. A small plastic cutting board or similar item would work too.
  2. Cut the building wire into 3-30 inch long pieces and bend with hands to form the drying hoops, poke through the holes in the base, and bend to form an “L” on the Author's DIY Plastic Bag Drying Rack Nonskid Basebottom. This wire is sold at hardware stores for pennies a foot and comes in different colors. In a pinch plastic coated wire coat hangers might work.
  3. Use hot-melt glue to secure the wire “L” to the bottom of the base.
  4. Cut self adhesive foam tape into 2-4 ½ inch long pieces, remove backing, and apply to the bottom to cover the wire ends and holes. This serves to make the unit stand flat and be non-skid.

Use

We found that once we got in the habit of rinsing or washing out plastic bags and placing them on the drying rack, it didn’t take much extra effort. We use the rack for produce bags, freezer bags, and storage bags. We do not reuse bags that were used to store raw meat. The rack is lightweight and easy to move around to a counter, the top of the washer, or even outside. We collect bags that spring a leak, tear, or wear out, bundle and then recycle them. I cannot remember that last time we bought a box of plastic bags.

Plastic Bag Dryer DIY and Purchase Options

There are a variety of plastic bag drying rack do-it-yourself designs on line, from using a toothbrush holder with chopsticks to one made from tinker toys. Not that handy or just want to buy one, surf the Web and check out the selection of handmade and commercial bag dryers or stop by a home goods store.

So…reusing bags is green and saves resources and money. For those people I know who have been reusing their plastic storage bags for years—you can now say, “I told you so”.