Creative uses for all those plastic bags

Creative uses for all those plastic bagsForgetting the reusable cloth shopping bags on a few shopping excursions can result in an abundance of petroleum-based plastic shopping bags. Vilified for wreaking havoc on our oceans and clogging landfills for all eternity, the cheap and easy answer to transporting goods from store to home ranks high on the list of our collective consumer sins.

And of course, with sin, comes guilt. What can be done when bad shopping bags happen to (basically) good people? The answers -- and there are quite a few -- might surprise you.

In an effort to ease our guilt ridden consciences and help rationalize our addiction, some retailers print recycling tips on the bags. Walgreens' bag suggests "5 Reuses for a plastic bag" and lists: shoe protectors, dirty diaper holders (tie them tightly closed), freezer bags, rubber glove substitutes and plant protectors.

Target too encourages customers to reinvent their used bags as "tiny trash can liners," for "doggy duty", "soggy laundry," "tomorrow's lunch bag," or as stuffing inside of a "care package." Once the bag has been utilized in every way imaginable, Target hopes consumers will "return [the] bag to a participating store for recycling."

Useful, but not exactly big news. Who hasn't used a grocery bag to line the inside of a small waste basket? Or walked the dog and used the plastic grocery bag to pick up and carry the poop. Ho-hum.

Things start to get interesting, however, when the creativity of our consumer nation is called upon and the question of how to reuse plastic bags is answered with good, old-fashioned American ingenuity.

Did you know surfers use them to help put on wetsuits? Slip empty bags over each foot before pulling on the pant legs of the wetsuit. I've seen it in action and it works.

Commenters responding to a post, How Many Ways Are There to Reuse A Plastic Shopping Bag, missed the surfing angle but came up with plenty of other ideas. "If you have kids who have a hard time putting on winter boots and ice skates, slip a bag over each stocking foot and the foot slides right into the boot," wrote one. "A cover for a bike seat when you have to lock up in the rain," wrote another.

Vomit receptacle, trash bag for the car, emergency rain bonnet, mini-drop cloth while painting, and plastic turban to hold hair while waiting for at-home dye jobs to set were also recommendations. Several respondents said they donate gently used plastic bags to non-profit thrift shops to be passed along to the next consumer. Now we're talking.

One resourceful soul said he used the bags to remove a "rotting possum carcass from under [the] house." So, there you go. Add road kill and rodent removal to the list.

Of course, where there is excess material, there will be crafters.

On YouTube, there is a community of plastic bag crafters who demonstrate what can be done with a used bag and a little imagination. In a video for CRAFT, Cristen Andrews demonstrates how to cut the bags into strips, fasten them together and create large skeins of plastic bag "yarn". Andrews makes hats and soda can cozies. Others design mats, handbags, totes, dog leashes, place mats, toilet paper holders, baskets and sandals. Basically, anything that can be crocheted can be made out of re purposed plastic bags.

Street artist Joshua Allen Harris had yet another idea. Harris used the bags to create fanciful monsters and animals on the streets of New York City. Using a variety of plastic shopping bags, the artist cut the bags to form balloon-like shapes and affixed them (temporarily) to subway grates on the sidewalks. When the trains roared past underneath the sidewalk, the air that was pushed up through the grates inflated the bags and the monsters briefly danced to life. This may not be a practical function, but it is a fabulous one.

Suggestions for reuse also get creative at, where the first suggestion in 63 Uses for Walmart Bags was make a purse ... by sewing a bunch of them together." Number 63 encouraged crafters to weave the bags into an inexpensive, water resistant "braided rug."

Some of the best ideas from the TruckerPhoto site included: a splash-resistant cook book cover; pillow stuffing, cat-litter waste removal, a foot prophylactic for use while trying on shoes at a yard sale, protecting a plaster cast while taking a shower; covering a parked car's mirrors and wiper blades in winter to keep them free of ice and snow, and slipping them over the blades on a ceiling fan while dusting to prevent accumulated dust from drifting down.

The post also suggested swiping the magnetic strip of a well-worn credit card across a plastic bag when an ATM won't "read" the card. "Not sure why this one works but it does," said the anonymous author.

Someday soon, however, as reported by WalletPop in the Vanishing America series, plastic bags may be a thing of the past. Future generations will be left to wonder what those unmapped islands of plastic are floating in the ocean, and kids will have no point of reference for the phrase, "paper or plastic?" Until that day, however, waste not, want not.

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