Plastic bags first blew onto the retail scene in the late 1970s. They've since replaced paper at most grocery and retail stores. As Dustin Hoffman was so famously told in the 1967 film The Graduate: "One word. Plastics."
A frequent shopper, I'm practically up to my ears in plastic bags. I swear those little suckers multiply, like a Mogwai named Gizmo in a rainstorm. You can take them home, but whatever you do, please don't feed them after midnight!
Different countries have different usage levels, but the entire world has to commit to reducing this usage.
— Douglas Lober, co-founder of reusethisbag.com
Harmless as thin, plastic bags may seem, their impact on the environment is heavy. When they're not sloppily spilling out from beneath your kitchen sink, they're often found littering the streets, clogging drainage systems, sitting in landfills or causing a strangling hazard for ocean life.
"Every year, one trillion plastic bags – single use – are used, equating to two million per minute," writes Douglas Lober, co-founder of ReuseThisBag.com. "Different countries have different usage levels, but the entire world has to commit to reducing this usage. A plastic bag is made from depletable resources, yet almost never breaks down."
Plastic bag usage facts
According to the Center for Biological Diversity:
- Americans use an average of 365 plastic bags per person annually (that's like one bag, per person, per day, everyday).
- Manufacturing the 100 billion plastic bags used by Americans every year requires 12 million barrels of oil.
- More than 87% of the plastic bags, sacks and wraps generated in the U.S. in 2015 were never recycled. That means they ended up in landfills and the ocean.
- It takes 1,000 years for a plastic bag to degrade in a landfill.
The unhealthy aspects of the infiltration of plastic bags have not gone unnoticed. These eight states have gone as far as to ban single-use plastic bags completely:
- New York
Meanwhile, many stores with plastic bags offer recycling programs for used bags and cash incentives when you bring your own reusable bags. Oftentimes you can even purchase a reusable bag or two at the checkout counter for less than a dollar.
If none of these scenarios apply to you and you're developing a serious plastic bag storage problem, no worries. There are many creative ways you can reuse your excess plastic bags at home—everything from lining small garbage cans to making unbelievable art.
Here are 10 practical, easy and fun ways to reuse plastic grocery bags:
Packing and Shipping Filler
The last time I shipped a package that I sold online, I used plastic bags in lieu of bubble wrap or messy Styrofoam peanuts. It worked like a charm.
Stuffing for Decorative Pillows
Self-explanatory. If you're into that whole plastic-chic look, you could also use another plastic bag as the pillow cover.
Impromptu Garbage Bag
It rolls up into a small ball and can easily fit into most purses or car glove compartments, then expands at a moments notice to hold dirty tissues, candy bar wrappers, coffee cups and other garbage. Once it's filled, tie it up and dispose of it in an actual garbage can.
Plastic bags are perfect for transporting dirty clothes, wet bathing suits, muddy shoes, or any other item that needs to stay separate from the rest of your stuff. They also make for a discreet man purse.
Arts and Crafts for Kids and Adults
In fairy tales, Rumplestiltskin spun yarn into gold. In real life, you can make plastic bags into plarn, which can then be made into an array of cool arts and crafts, like a decorative bowl or a beautiful bracelet. You may even be able to make your own "gold" by selling your plarn crafts at art fairs. The possibilities are as endless as a plastic bag's lifespan.
Rain Boots or Snow Shoes
Tie one bag around each shoe and let the puddle hopping or snowshoeing begin. Double 'em up for extra stomping power.
Parachute for G.I. Joe or Barbie
Snip off the bag handles, poke four holes around the edges at an equal distance, cut four pieces of string, tie the end of one string into one hole (repeat for all four strings and holes), then tie the other end of the strings to the doll.
Colorful Garden Flag
Decorate 'em, tie 'em to a stick, watch 'em fly in the breeze.
Double Dog Duty
Plastic bags do double duty when it comes to picking up dog poop. It's like a glove and a garbage in one.
Wrapping Paper Alternative
When it comes to birthdays, weddings, holidays or other special occasions, I often find myself scrambling for enough wrapping paper to cover all the presents. Scramble no more. Make your gift look extra groovy with plastic bag wrapping paper. As an added bonus, you can reuse your reused bags as garbage bags for any paper or ribbons ripped off the conventionally wrapped presents.
There are certainly way more than 10 ways to reuse plastic bags. So get creative. You're bound to think up countless ideas--enough to rival your plastic bag collection in and of itself--but I hope the 10 ideas above will at least help pique your interest in starting a plastic bag reuse revolution.
Don't do it for me. Do it for the Earth.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.