Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Paper or plastic?

When thinking about ways to reuse plastic bags, my first thoughts turned to how kids could use them. What do kids like to do? Play…so why not transform plastic bags into toys for them? For instance, they could put them over their heads as a way of playing peek-a-boo, or….hold on. Before you start thinking my current meds are messing with my common sense, relax. I’m only kidding! Just wanted to see if you were paying attention!

Of course, reusing plastic bags should not include anything child-related, unless it has to do with holding dirty cloth diapers when out and about or storing things in a closet or attic. Never, I repeat, never allow a child to play with a plastic bag or plastic wrap. This should go without saying, as it is common sense, but I’m saying it anyway.

So let’s get serious about what you can do with the mounds of plastic bags in your home, unless, of course, your house is like ours where we’re constantly scrounging for a plastic bag or two when we need one because I’m obsessed with using cloth bags.

First of all, are you aware that when asked the question, “Paper or plastic?” the environmentally sound choice is plastic? I was surprised myself to hear that. After all, we all have heard how plastic bags are a serious problem in the landfills and oceans. However, it takes more energy to manufacture paper bags than it does plastic. Plus, since they weigh less, they produce less waste. During the manufacturing process, there are fewer emissions produced with plastic over paper and plastic bags are fully recyclable. So, on the days you forget to take your cloth bags to the grocery store, opt for plastic when asked. Then, when you have a bag full of bags, refer back to this blog to find out what to do with them.

Have you ever heard of plarn? Plarn is plastic yarn made out of plastic grocery bags. The process for making it is simple and once made, it can be used the same way as regular yarn. There’s just some folding and trimming involved and you can find step-by-step instructions at Aside from the illustrated guide, there are also ideas for what to make with the plarn once done.

Other creative uses for plastic bags include: wrapping them around the knees of your pants to protect them from staining when working on your knees in the garage or garden; covering your hands with them when dealing with messes (such as when you have doggy duty) or other unpleasant pick up tasks; or temporarily keeping your paint brushes and rollers from drying out when you’re pressed for time and can’t get around to cleaning them for a day or two – simply wrap in a plastic bag and secure with a rubber band to make their airproof. You can also keep a large bag in your car to use as an emergency rain poncho or a small one for a rain hat in a pinch and you can carry a bag in your purse or pocket to wrap your wet umbrella in. Plastic grocery bags also make excellent planter fillers. Just crumple up some bags and put them in the bottom of planters (making sure you don’t cover up the drainage holes). This not only keeps you from using an excess amount of potting soil, but it also keeps the weight down on planters you move around from time to time.

One idea I love is to protect your breakables when shipping by padding them with wadded up plastic bags. Skip the Styrofoam peanuts (which I absolutely detest) and surround your items with bags. Include a suggestion for reuse or recycling of the bags for the recipient (or simply print up this article and tuck it in the box).

Of course, the standard use of plastic grocery bags is to line wastepaper baskets and kitchen trashcans. Just make sure the bags don’t have any holes in them!

One more use for plastic grocery bags is…for grocery shopping. Tote them along to the store and hand them to the bagger. When they wear out, turn them in for recycling. Most local grocery stores collect bags for recycling. It’s also possible they’ll take other kinds of plastic bags…it’s worth asking about! Some places will even take some or all of the following:

  • Clean dry cleaning bags
  • Bread bags
  • Furniture and electronic plastic wrap
  • Zipper type bags
  • Napkin, toilet paper and paper towel wrap
  • Cereal box liners
  • Produce bags

To find out more about this type of plastic recycling, go to

After writing all of this, I just might skip carrying the cloth bags to the store from time to time. Christmas is just around the corner and I’ll have plenty of packages to send.

Keeping it green,


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