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10 Clever Ways To Reuse Plastic Shopping Bags

Here are 10 practical ways you can reuse and recycle all those plastic shopping bags, to save money and the environment!

Each year, Americans use 100 billion plastic shopping bags. Sometimes it seems like there are at least that many bags taking up space in a closet or kitchen cabinet. If you have a mountain of plastic bags and you’re looking for practical ways to recycle them, here are 10 ways you can use them to make life easier, save money, and cut down on waste.

1. Keep Birds Out of the Garden
If wild birds are eating fruits and vegetables before you can harvest them, use shopping bags to scare them away. Cut the bags into long strips and tie the strips to plants or stakes. You can also run string between stakes so that you can tie strips along the string. As the plastic flutters in the breeze, it will startle the birds out of your garden. (Be sure to tie them on really well so they don’t fly away.)

2. Fill Plant Pots
If you’re a container gardener, then you know that potting soil gets expensive – especially if you’re filling large containers. Cut costs by filling the bottoms of deep pots with crumpled up shopping bags. Just make sure to place a few small stones around drainage areas so that the plastic doesn’t clog the holes.

3. Clean Knees
Are you tired of muddy, grass-stained jeans? When you’re gardening, tie shopping bags around your knees, and you’ll never have to worry about grass stains or ground-in dirt again.

4. Pack It Up!
If you’ve divided the plants in your garden, but you’re out of giveaway pots, use plastic bags instead. Bags work almost as well as pots for keeping roots moist until your friends have time to plant their new starts.

5. Who Needs Peanuts?
If you need to ship a package, don’t bother buying packing peanuts or bubble wrap. Fill the box with bags to cushion the item you’re sending.

6. Help Shoes and Handbags Keep Their Shape
If you want your shoes, boots and handbags to stay in shape, but you’re out of tissue paper or other fillers, use shopping bags instead. As a bonus, in humid climates, they won’t absorb ambient moisture, which reduces the chances of mold and mildew growth!

7. Keep Your Clothes Dust Free
We all have a few outfits in our closets that are reserved for special occasions. Garment bags will keep them clean, but they’re costly and bulky. Save both money and space by using the larger shopping bags as a garment bag to protect suits, jackets and big items. Simply cut a small hole in the bottom of the bag and slip it over the clothes hanger to keep your favorite outfits clean. Small plastic bags work well for blouses and children’s clothes.

8. Clean Ceiling Fans
Have you ever cleaned a ceiling fan, only to have the dust and dirt rain down on your floors and furnishings? Slip a plastic bag over the blades of the fan as you clean to catch the mess.

9. Use them for Painting Projects
Whether you’re painting your living room, the garage or anywhere else, plastic bags are an invaluable tool:

  • Put them under paint cans to catch drips and spills.
  • Double-bag your roller pan. Instead of washing it out, you can peel the plastic bags away from the pan and throw them away.
  • If you need to take a break, tightly wrap your brushes and rollers in two or three plastic bags so that they don’t dry out.

When you’re done painting, you can also use plastic to keep your paint fresh. Place a bag over the top of the paint can before replacing the lid. This will create a tighter seal, and it will keep dried paint from falling into the can the next time you open it.

10. Cheap Insulation
If you need to seal gaps around vent pipes, ducts, plumbing or any other fixture that runs through a wall, use bags to fill the void inside the wall. After that, seal the gap from both sides with spray foam or caulk. The sealant will stick to both the bags and the pipe, ensuring that you have a tight, long-lasting seal. They also work to fill the gaps from your window air conditioning unit.

Do you have clever ways that you reuse plastic shopping bags? Share your ideas with us in the comments below!

Amber Kanuckel is a freelance writer from rural Ohio who loves all things outdoors. She specializes in home, garden, environmental and green living topics. Her article on woolly worm caterpillar folklore appears in the 2020 Farmers' Almanac.

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Gale Harris

I’ve made homeless mats with plastic bags, but instead of crocheting, I use what’s called an in-braided rug technique. It’s very simple, and if you use a whole bag (minus handles and bottom seam) as a loop, it’s quite padded. I tried the crochet style and found the smaller loops hard to crochet with. This is super easy, and you can crank out mats quite quickly.

Patty H

We tie a plastic bag over our side car mirrors when the weather men say it’s going to snow or ice. Just remove and mirrors are clean! No scraping!!! You can also put your extra pair of shoes in one in your suitcase when traveling, keeping your packed clothes clean. Remember making your friends’ notes into triangle “footballs” when you were in school? I fold a plastic bag or 2 into “footballs” and keep in my purse for emergencies like when I need an unexpected tote bag to carry something, for sickness, a trash bag, for wet clothes, muddy shoes, etc. Plastic newspaper bags are perfect for carrying wet umbrellas, too.

Sue Alrland

Once a month we donate them to the local food bank. They’re always in need of them to bag food for they’re customers.

Susan Allport

Wrap and tie a bag around your pant leg when riding a bike.

Linda Webb

We save the tube from roll of paper towels and stuff plastic bags into tube. Keep in glove compartment of car for trash, such as food wrappers, bags, etc. Also good to have in case someone gets “car sick”! The easiest way to remove from tube – just tear tube – so convenient.

Dave

I grow melons on a trellis. When the fruit gets about softball size, I place it in a Walmart bag and tie it to the trellis. This relieves strain on the vine and allows lots of room for the fruit to increase in size as it ripens. Cut a hole in the lowest part of the bag to allow rain to drain out.

Cathie Liles

I carry one all rolled up w/ a rubber band around it in my purse. if I’m caught without an umbrella, I have a rain bonnet like my Mom & Mama used to get out of their purse—those folded plastic ones that tied under the chin. it works just great.

Kathryn

Small trash can liners. I haven’t bought a liner in 20 yrs. They also work well when traveling. But dirty socks & undies inside until you get the next chance to wash.

Tonya Cassell

I reuse in a lot of these ways. But one that was touched on slightly is they make great temporary insulation around old doors and windows that leak air when it’s blowing really hard in the winter

Cindy Kluchar

I keep a bag of bags in the car and reuse them at the store!

Shawna

Use it for stuffing. My dogs always go through doggie beds. If u use the bags as stuffing they are less likely to in stuff and it’s easy to restuff.

Adam Robbins

I like to stuff them in the mouths of liberals while they’re talking.

Tammy

Donate some to your local school. Especially the weeks leading up tp Winter, Spring and Summer Breaks. That way the kids can bring home all schoolwork.

Yvonne

Cut bags into strips as ties for young plants to train them onto trellis or stakes. Also used for poop scoops and holds more than the bags purchased for that purpose. Knitted from strips makes a useful door mat. Placing raw or green kitchen waste into bags keeps flies and smells away,especially fish smells.

BARBARA

WE USE THEM FOR DIRTY OR WET DIAPERS, DONT NEED 35.00 PLASTIC CAN. TIE IT UP ,PUT OUTSIDE. NO SMELL IN HOUSE

Pattye

I lay them on top of each other, cut the handles off, then the bottom seams. Cut horizontally into strips and create loops this way. Loop each one to the next and roll into large balls. I use these to crochet shopping bags, gardening bags and have made backpacks (for swimming suits n towels) and have even made a clutch purse out of Krogers brown bags. Looks a bit like leather and can throw it in the washer!!

Karen Stabler

Useful for reshaping caps after washing them. My Honey has quite a collection and all of them are clean!

Peggy bar

Once while on vacation at the beach I used grocery store bags to make a clothes line to dry towels and bathing suits. I looped the handles one by one pulling the next bag through and three bags looped together handle to handle is longer than a yard so it did not take many to make a long connected bag clothes line. If you twist it as you go it resembles sort of a lumpy fat rope. If you just let the bags flap in the breeze it looks like bags tied together. Either way it worked.

Kristin McCallister

I take plastic newspaper bags with me when I walk my pups to pick up their poop. Then make sure the yard is all clean when we get home 🙂 They’re just small breeds, perhaps larger breeds would need the shopping bags!

Denise

Slipa plastic bag over your socks, then put on your shoes or boots – insulation and waterproofing all in one.

bobbe rush

here’s one for you if you are cleaning out your fridge double the plastic bags and put the food in then place in the freezer and on garbage take the bag out of the freezer and throw in the trash. By the time the garbage is picked it’s usually still frozen and keeps the flies down and your garbage container still clean and does not smell to bad.

Kelly

you can use the bags to make a rug just the same way use use old rags to make a rug.

Jess

we use them in the small garbage cans( bathroom/bedroom) as the liner instead of buying garbage bags

Valerie

Love these ideas. I found a new one. One day I needed a durable, water-proof rope to hang a little shower caddie but had just moved and couldn’t find anything that would work – then the light bulb went off! I used my braiding skills with wide strands of plastic bags to create a very durable and water proof rope. I braided them together tightly and heated up the loose ends to give it a polished finish. 🙂

Diane C

Plastic bags can actually be used to create sleeping mats. It takes around 270 to make a 6 X 3 ft mat. (crocheted) Perfect for homeless or even for kids sleeping over.

AngieTN

I take one grocery store bag and flatten it out. I then take more bags and one by one roll them and stack them in the first bag. Stuff it to your preference and put the stuffed bag into a throw pillow to use on outdoor furniture. May want to put a zip tie through the corner of pillow after you’ve closed it up and attach it to the chair, bench, etc. to keep it from blowing away in strong wind. It’s cheaper and it won’t be the end of the world if it accidentally gets rained on. 😉

G Smith

I use them in small trash cans instead of buying trash can liners. Also use them on hair when doing a deep conditioner instead of the throw away plastic shower caps. Lots of uses for these bags instead of just throwing them away.

Alicia

Ok. This may be a bit grose but her goes. I slip 1 bag over my dustpan, and 1 over my broom and tie at the top. The I can just sweep up any pet accidents. Take bag off of broom and put it in the dustpan. Wile taking bag off of the dustpan and turning the bag inside out in order for the content to become inside the bag. Great for those really messy ones that are hard to deal with.

Brandi

My great grandma and grandma used plastic bread bags to make rugs! So resourceful. They were neat-

Barbara Matthews

When using is all said and done with bags, recycle, recycle, recycle!

Katherine

I find different color ones and cut them into strips, tie them together and use like yarn and knit. Made a nice water-proof beach bag…someone stole it, so I know it was good.

Susan Higgins

Katherine: That’s incredible! We’d love to see a picture if you have one? So many great ideas, everyone! We’re very impressed!

Deborah Burrows

We also use the bags on our shoes when we work in the garden to keep shoes clean.Just put the bag over your shoes and tie around your leg.When done peel off and throw away.Your shoes are clean to go inside with out tracking dirt in.

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