Plastic grocery bags.
We’ve all got them hiding in our home somewhere, stashed somewhere out of sight where they multiply in the dark like rabbits.
Perhaps you have one of those lovely little cloth organizers, a tube where you can shove them into the top and pull a single bag from the bottom, as needed.
But it’s overflowing.
Maybe you keep them stuffed inside yet another plastic grocery bag tucked away in your closet or under the sink. Maybe it’s not just one bag filled with bags but many bags filled with bags.
And that closet is overflowing.
Or maybe, as my mother did, you have that one cupboard. The one that’s been taken over. The one dedicated strictly to hiding the mounds of plastic grocery bags you’ve said you’re going to take back to the store to recycle.
And it’s overflowing.
Wherever you stash your plastic grocery bags, it’s time to cut down on the clutter and recycle some of them. You’ll be freeing up space in your home as well as putting the bags to good use.
Before we check out all the cool ways you can use them, though, let’s take a moment to deal with the larger issue at hand – the fact that more plastic grocery bags keep ending up in your home in the first place.
I won’t shock you with the number of bags that end up in the landfill each year or worse, in the ocean.
We all know that single-use plastic is a huge problem. But so is bringing groceries home without them should you forget your reusable shopping bag.
Most of us have good intentions when it comes to our desire to stop using these wasteful plastic bags, but life often gets in the way. We forget our shopping bag in the car or at home and end up at the checkout line silently cringing at the cart full of plastic bags and wondering where they will end up.
Here are a few tips to help prevent more of these pesky plastic grocery bags from following you home.
No Thank You
Skip the bag altogether. If you’ve only got a few items, there’s just no need for a plastic bag. No matter what store you’re in, get into the habit of saying, “no, thank you” when asked if you’d like a bag.
Even better, insist you don’t need a bag when the cashier starts putting your items in one. Stop them before they get started. I’ve often pulled my items out of a bag and handed it back to the cashier.
Put Your Bag in Front of the Door
I’ve finally figured out how to make sure my reusable shopping bags make it back to the car. As soon as I’ve emptied it, I fold it up and put it right in front of the door so that I can’t open my front door without moving the bag. This way, when I’m headed out to the car, my bags go with me.
I tried hanging the bags on my doorknob, but it’s so easy to open the door and leave them hanging there. If I have to pick them up and move them to get out the door, I end up with them in my hand.
Bring-a-Bag Sticker or Post-It
I wish I lost a pound for every extra trip to the car I’ve made when I realize that I’ve left my bags in the car.
I finally got smart and put a red dot sticker on my dashboard. It’s my Bring-a-Bag-Dot. Whenever I look at it, it reminds me to grab my reusable shopping bags. And it works quite well.
Not Just for Groceries
This one is the hardest but get in the habit of bringing a reusable shopping bag wherever you shop, not just the grocery store. We’ve got it ingrained in us reusable shopping bags = groceries, but our efforts often stop there.
If you’re buying something, bring a reusable shopping bag.
Now let’s get to the fun. I’ve scoured the internet to bring you some seriously fun, brilliant, and practical ways to reuse that giant pile of plastic grocery bags lurking in your cupboard.
1. Use Them as…Bags
I know, I know, this idea is crazy; using a plastic bag as a reusable bag. It’s just utter nonsense.
But why not? I mean, that’s their intended use – to carry things. When you’ve unpacked your groceries, pack up the bags and tuck them back into the car to be used again.
While we all love the fancy reusable grocery bags, they can be big and bulky. In comparison, plastic grocery bags can easily be stuffed in a pocket.
And in all fairness, reusable bags are just as tough on the environment to produce as their disposable counterparts. To ensure they have a positive impact beyond their production, you need to use them for at least a decade, and even cotton tote bags need to be used for many years to have a significant impact on the environment.
Not only will this beautiful light help you reduce your plastic grocery bag waste, but it will also help get rid of a few of those Starbucks Frappuccino tops too. You know what I’m talking about.
These would look beautiful for a special occasion like a wedding or a swanky dinner party on your lawn.
Another bright idea is this decorative ruffled plastic bag lamp. Use white bags and a soft white lightbulb for a chic tableside lamp.
With a little time, your iron and sewing machine, you can create beautiful personalized sandwich wraps. Not only will you recycle plastic grocery bags you already have, but you’ll also prevent the future use of single-use plastic sandwich bags.
Make up a stack for wrapping the kiddos’ sandwiches in for school lunch. These sweet sandwich wraps also make a thoughtful gift for a friend or coworker who packs their lunch.
This plastic bag rope has a myriad of possible uses; pack some for camping trips, stick it in the back of your car and use it to tie your bags of groceries together, or even wrap the ends in electric tape and use it as a jump rope.
Create coasters to protect the furniture in your home. This is an opportunity to let your creativity shine while recycling plenty of plastic bags at once. Make a few sets for gifts too.
What is plarn, you may be asking? Good question! It’s plastic bag yarn. And once you make a bunch, you can use it to knit or crochet up plenty of projects, including a few listed here.
Use plastic grocery bags to weave a basket for carrying vegetables in from the garden. Use it to keep your gardening tools neat and tidy by the back door. Or keep one in the back of your car to use for foraging; you can squash it down to save space until you need it.
This fun flower pot is just one of the things you can make with plarn. And you can line the flower pot with a plastic grocery bag to prevent leaks. Make several in different sizes for all your houseplants.
10. Package Padding
I’ve lost track of the number of items I’ve received from eBay that were packaged using plastic bags, and I can tell you nothing I received was ever broken. It makes sense to reuse bags from around the house to package items you’re going to mail instead of purchasing plastic bubble wrap, which ends up being another disposable plastic item.
11. Get Ready to Move
In the same vein, if you plan on moving soon, plastic bags are a great way to protect your valuables. Back in the day, everyone saved old newspapers, but as more and more people move away from paper newspapers, the harder they are to find for this purpose. Plastic grocery bags, on the other hand, are everywhere.
This brilliant idea saves money and prevents even more single-use plastic use. Instead of paying for poly mailer bags, fuse grocery bags using your iron to create bags to ship items in the mail.
Babies love crinkly sounds. All of my kiddos had at least one baby toy that made that wonderful sound when touched and squished. Rather than buying something, consider making a handmade pad full of sensory delights for new, discovering fingers to play with.
14. Gift Bow
Top your gift with a quick bow made from plastic grocery bags. You can easily make them as you need them or make up a bunch and store them with your gift wrap supplies to use as needed.
If you don’t know how to knit or crochet, you can make this braided basket instead. This would be a fun project to mix up some colorful bags to create interesting patterns in the finished project.
Who doesn’t love a day at the beach? Make yourself an upcycled beach bag that’s easy to get sand out of. And you can crush it down and store it in the car when you’re not using it. This bag easily doubles as a great market bag.
Grab the kids and save your most colorful plastic bags for this fun craft. You can make beautiful flowers that will last long after the birthday, Mother’s Day or other special day has come and gone. As every mom will tell you, gifts handmade by the kiddos are always the most special.
18. Ice-Free Morning Commute
Tie plastic grocery bags over your windshield wipers and side mirrors on your car before inclement weather. When you’re ready to drive, all you have to do is slip them off. No scraping tiny, hard-to-reach mirrors and your windshield wipers will be ice-free.
Keep coins ready to hand with this great upcycled plastic bag coin purse. It’s a simple project to show off some of the fun designs you find on plastic bags. If you’ve got a few that are brightly colored, you may want to save them for this project.
20. Keep Your Frozen Goods Organized
We’ve all been victims of frozen foods sliding out of the freezer of the refrigerator and smashing our feet. Keep your freezer organized by using plastic grocery bags to group frozen items. Label the bags with a permanent marker – veggies, chicken, soups, sauces, etc. Double bag for durability.
This works equally well for a chest freezer. The handles make it easier to lift bulky items out of the bottom of the freezer.
This tutorial for outdoor pillows is brilliant! It’s quick and easy to do. At roughly fifteen minutes per pillow, you’ll be enjoying these new pillows out on the patio before you can say, “Pass the iced tea.”
And the best part about this craft is how many plastic bags it uses. Since you’re stuffing the pillow with grocery bags, you’ll bust through your stash in no time.
22. Plastic Bag Kite
Quickly make a kite on the next windy day for some classic fun that adults and kids both enjoy. This easy tutorial will yield a small enough kite that any kiddo can fly.
23. Keep Knees Clean
Whether you’re kneeling in the garden or in the shop, a plastic bag or two can protect your knees from getting dirty. Slit the bag down the middle about six inches. Now open the bag fully and use the two handles to tie the plastic sleeve over your pants.
24. Garbage Bags
I know it’s still going in the landfill, but I look at it this way – you came home from the store with them, so they’re already in the house, make them serve another purpose before they get pitched. You’ll be saving money and preventing even more plastic via full-sized trash bags from ending up in the landfill.
Once you’ve used up your stash, commit to remembering your reusable bags when you shop.
25. Save Bags for Camping
These days, many camping spots are “Carry In – Carry Out,” meaning you take any garbage you produce back out of the park with you. What a great way to keep parks clean. Pack several plastic grocery bags to use for garbage while you’re camping.
They’re much smaller than normal-sized garbage bags, making them easier to stash in the car once they’re full. And you’ve already got them; choosing to use them instead of a trash bag is cutting down on single-use plastic too.
26. Keep Paintbrushes and Rollers Fresh
Who doesn’t love the look of a new coat of paint?
The next time you’re painting and need to stop for the day, wrap your brushes and rollers tightly inside a bag leaving the handle out. Use the bag handles to tie it shut. When you come back to painting, you’ll have a fresh brush, ready to go!
27. Faux Finish
Speaking of painting, did you know you can use scrunched-up bags to create different textured looks with paint? Scrunch up a plastic back and press it on the freshly painted wall. Alternatively, you can dip the scrunched-up bag in a color that’s slightly lighter or dark and press it to a dry wall for a completely different look.
Try it for your next home improvement project.
28. Doggy Doo Bags
Dog owners, I don’t think this one needs an explanation. Why pay for special bags when the grocery store gives them away for free?
29. Glove Box Garbage Bag
Tuck several into your glove box to stash trash in while you’re on the road. It’s much easier to keep the inside of your car clean if you have a garbage bag at the ready.
30. Traveling Laundry Bag
Use plastic bags to stash dirty laundry in when you’re traveling. Keep your clean and dirty clothes separate when everything is stashed together in your suitcase.
31. Eww, Cover That Thing Up
Wrap your toilet plunger in a plastic bag to keep your floor or cupboard under the sink clean.
32. Recycle Them
Yep, I know. You wouldn’t be here if you could only remember to recycle them. I hear you; I do. That’s why we’re going to do something together right now. Get up from reading this post and go pack up that entire cupboard/closet/organizer full of bags. Then take that mass and put it in the passenger seat of your car. Make sure it’s the passenger seat where they will be staring at you every time you get in the car.
I’ll wait here.
It will take you five minutes tops. No, seriously, stop reading; I’m not going anywhere. Go, do it right this second and be sure you put them in the passenger seat of your car.
See, that didn’t take long at all. And don’t you feel so much better? I can see you smiling; what a relief, right? I think you should go to the store and treat yourself to some ice cream. Oh, while you’re there, drop that giant grocery bag bomb in the recycling bin out front.
With a few of these plastic grocery bag-busting ideas and new habits going forward, you’ll find you may never need to visit this article again. And you’ll be doing something great for the environment too.
Now, what are you going to do with that shelf, cupboard, or space in the closet that used to house your plastic bag collection?
Hey there, Rural Sprout reader, my name is Tracey, and I’m so glad you popped over to my bio. Originally from upstate NY, I’m now an honorary Pennsylvanian, having lived here for the past 12 years.
I grew up spending weekends on my dad’s off-the-grid homestead.
He built our rough-hewn log cabin when I was seven years old, and I spent much of my childhood roaming the woods and getting my hands dirty.
I learned how to do things most little kids haven’t done in over a century.
We were always busy. Whether it was pressing apples for homemade cider or trudging through the early spring snows of upstate NY to tap trees for maple syrup, there were always chores with each new season.
I learned how to preserve what we grew in our garden.
And dad was organic, long before it became the popular buzzword that it is today.
As an adult living in the modern world, I continue to draw on the skills I learned as a kid. I love my Wi-Fi, and knowing pizza is only a phone call away. But I’m okay with never revisiting the adventure that is using an outhouse in the middle of January.
So, these days I consider myself to be almost a homesteader.
I take an eclectic approach to homesteading, utilizing modern convenience where I want, and choosing the rustic ways of my childhood simply because they bring me joy.
I’m a firm believer in self-sufficiency, no matter where you live, and the power and pride that comes from doing something for yourself.
I garden, even when the only space available is the rooftop of my apartment. I’ve been a knitter since age seven, and I spin and dye my own wool as well. And if you can ferment it, it’s probably in my pantry or on my kitchen counter. I can’t go more than a few days without a trip deep into the Pennsylvania State Game Lands looking for mushrooms, edible plants, or the sound of the wind in the trees.
My gift of gab and sense of humor via the written word keeps me busy as a copywriter and freelance blogger.
If you need copy that grabs your readers by the eyeballs and keeps them glued to your page, then I’m your gal. You can find me at BesemerWrites.
Follow all of my crazy homesteading adventures on Almost a Homesteader and Instagram @traceyleezle
Peace, love, and dirt under your nails,