Save Money: Plastic Bags

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Whether you’re new to the sustainability scene or consider yourself a green savvy consumer, one thing’s for sure: If you do it the right way, being “green” can save you money in the long run.

Sure, you may have to pay a bit more up front, but most eco-investments pay off in time, and an easy way to help feed your green monster without depleting your wallet is capitalizing on the concept of reuse.

And if you haven’t noticed yet, we love reuse – T-shirts, jeans, costumes, plastic bottles – you name it, you can probably reuse it in some way.

Enter: the plastic bag. Love it or hate it, use it or lose it, plastic bags are everywhere around us, and even the most intense greenies grab one of these guys every now and then.

So, lose the glaring looks and and put a little extra cash in your piggy bank by doing right by your plastic bags – reuse them to the nth degree, then recycle when you’re done. Here are our favorite ideas.

In 2007, more than 830 million pounds of plastic bags and film were recycled, a 27 percent increase from 2005. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

In 2007, more than 830 million pounds of plastic bags and film were recycled, a 27 percent increase from 2005. Photo: Amanda Wills, Earth911.com

1. Basic Reuse Ideas

During our research, we literally found hundreds of ways to reuse your plastic bags. So, let’s run through a few of our favorite picks from these “basic” ideas, in case you need some quick fixes that don’t involve a sewing machine or the hot glue gun (read below for those fun crafts!):

  • Traveling – Wrap bottles of shampoo, lotion and the like in an old plastic bag. This is also an easy trick for dirty shoes or any other item in your suitcase with the potential to ruin your silk skirt or fancy tie en route to the next big meeting or family vacation.
  • Trash can liners – This may seem like a no-brainer, but why buy small plastic bags to line your wastebaskets in your bathroom or home office when you’re already bringing home grocery bags that fit these smaller bins? Don’t spend money on a redundant product and prevent the need to manufacture more bags as well with this simple idea.
  • Packing materials – Whether you’re shipping a box to your Great Aunt Dede or simply putting an old purse or pair of shoes in storage, plastic bags offer an easy-to-use material to keep your items safe and in working order. Simply ball them up to use as cushion or filler as needed. The savings? Keeping your items pristine, of course!
  • Reuse it – Literally. Since a typical plastic bag weighs approximately 4 to 5 grams and can hold up to 17 pounds of product – nearly 2,000 times its own weight – they are perfect for multiple uses as a carrying device. Pack your lunch or use them to bring home groceries a few times before recycling them (see section #4). If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of reusable bags, which are typically non-recyclable, this is a great way to avoid spending extra cash on those measures.

2. Make Like a Chicken: Items for Your Home

There are some really fun ways to reuse a plastic bag that add flair to your home’s decor. If you’re the ambitious sort, then go for one of these projects, all of which use cheap and/or free materials to add spunk and spontaneity (on a budget) to your home:

Need a little extra pluck for your thrifty crafts? There's nothing like a plastic chicken to start off a conversation about saving money through the art of reuse! Photo: WOW Imports

Need a little extra pluck for your thrifty crafts? There's nothing like a plastic chicken to start off a conversation about saving money through the art of reuse. Photo: WOW Imports

  • Placemats – How cute are these crocheted placemats from CreativeJewishMom.com? Follow her easy, step-by-step instructions for turning your plain grocery sacks into a kitschy addition to your table.
  • Rugs and sleeping mats – Tried a placemat and ready to go bigger? Create your own, multi-colored floormat from recycled plastic bags. Or, if you’re feeling philanthropic, expand your floormat project to a sleeping mat that can be donated to a local homeless shelter. We love this project from a church in Illinois and this blanket project by a school in Florida as examples.
  • Furniture – Check out Ryan Frank’s rad illustration of how plastic bags can be reused in a more durable fashion, such as a chair. This may definitely be one of our most time-consuming projects, but if you’ve got the desire, it’s well worth trying!
  • Flowers – They may look lovely and fresh, but these flowers don’t need any watering. Check out Sustainlane’s how-to on transforming plastic bags into fresh flora.
  • A Chicken – We just love this fun reuse craft from South Africa, which made it into our 2008 Gift Guide. You can definitely try your own hand and save a few bucks, or purchase this chicken to support a local group in Cape Town.

3. Plastic Bag Wearables

If you want to flex a little craft muscle, there are plenty of reuse projects that can improve your wardrobe and accessories at a low cost (minus your time, of course). Check a few out below:

  • Messenger bags – Though not that far off from its original use, a messenger or tote bag adds more sturdiness, durability and lifespan to these plastic sacks. Check out the below video by Bre Pettis for more details.
  • Yarn – On the same note as fusing plastic layers together (did you watch the video?), you can also get more out of plastic bags by turning them into yarn, and the creative sky’s the limit! Check out Helle Jorgensen blog for step-by-step details for yarn that you can use in a number of crafty projects.
  • Jewelry – How about a sweet, woven floral necklace made entirely of plastic bags to add to your jewelry collection? Yes, please!
  • Footwear – Why not take your bags for a walk and try them out as a brand new pair of kicks? Follow Crafter’s instructions for these laid-back sandals. Or, check out these fun boots decorated with plastic bags.
  • Wedding Gown – Oh yeah, you heard right. You can make a wedding gown out of plastic bags. While it may take you a great deal of time, this would definitely save you some serious cash!

4. The Last Step: Recycle

OK, now that you’ve made sandals, a floormat, a chair and maybe even a chicken, perhaps it’s time to scrap these reuse projects and make something new. If you can remove any non-plastic additives from your creations, leaving just the plastic bags, then you’re clear to recycle them.

Start by checking out our plastic bag recycling search to find the grocery store in your area that accepts them, or check with your favorite grocery store next time you’re out buying supplies.

The next step is where most people struggle…remembering. Here’s some simple tips to make it that much easier:

  • Return the used bags to your trunk immediately after you’ve unloaded the groceries.
  • Keep them in a larger bag and hang them on the front door as a constant reminder.
  • Write a reminder to yourself on your grocery list.

No matter what you do with your bags, there are always easy ways to save money utilizing this inexpensive, durable material. Just don’t forget the important step of recycling them whenever possible to eliminate an extra cost to the environment in the end.

Did you try any of the projects in this story? Share your experience and photos with us by emailing Amanda Wills, Assistant Editor.

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