Confession: I wash and reuse plastic bags. My mom used to do this and my sister does too. I’ve seen spiky wooden bag dryers on the kitchen counters of some of my friends. But this practice does not appeal to all. Why bother, anyway?
Because little things add up. That is the basic reason behind many of our Good Life household practices such as growing our own vegetables, cooking from scratch and sewing. They involve effort but result in the production or re-use of needed items, save money and lighten our load on the planet.
So, what about plastic bags? These useful items are generally derived from fossil fuels – natural gas or petroleum – although they were originally made from plant-based cellulose. The ubiquitous bags manufactured by the petrochemical industry litter land and ocean and cause flooding by clogging drains. At every stage, from their manufacture through their use and disposal, plastic bags are also guilty of emitting toxins which can harm humans and other living beings.
Yuck! What to do? While some are finding ways to eliminate all plastics from their lives to avoid the toxins, I’m not there yet. We do carry cloth bags with us whenever we go shopping (photo at left). I find the old mantra Reduce, Re-use, Recycle captures my approach to plastic bags. To re-use them requires just a little time and effort.
Here’s my system: as we finish with bags we stash them behind the compost container near the kitchen sink. Now, I am not so obsessed with re-using bags that I wash and save the REALLY gross ones that have contained meat, stinky cheese, fruits or veggies that rotted in the bag at the back of the fridge or that were soil-encrusted and muddy. Those go into the trash. Bags with holes get washed and dried but then recycled in the bins at the supermarket.
The rest of the bags get washed in groups of six and hung on the six drying racks over the sink and dish drainer (photo at top right). When they have dried on one side I turn them inside out and use clothes pins to suspend them from our hanging baskets (photo at right). When dry, they get stored in homemade cloth tubes labeled for various sizes and types of plastic bags (photo at left).
So that’s it. We always have an abundant supply of plastic bags available without having to buy new ones.
In the developed world, we take for granted the shape of our culture and daily household practices. The ease that we enjoy is based on abundant energy supplies and widespread availability of appliances and consumer industrial products. But at what cost to the planet?
Part of the Good Life as we see it is consciously choosing patterns of living that allow us to lighten our impact on the planet. Washing each bag is a small act, but it is a part of a bigger whole. We hope we can live in a way that does not rob future generations of the life-supporting planet we have known.