Cities such as San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles have been trying to ban plastic grocery bags for some time now. The effort has even garnered the backing of several celebrities such as Eva Longoria and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, as well as almost every environmental group out there, and with good reason. Plastic bags are not biodegradable and can ruin our environment since they will sit in landfills for what seems like all of eternity. Furthermore, it takes a significant amount of oil to make plastic bags, and those that do not end up in landfills end up in the environment, posing a danger to wildlife.
However, with every benefit comes a drawback. While it might seem that using reusable grocery bags to do our shopping would be a great and environmentally conscious way to decrease plastic bag usage, they can actually pose a danger to your health. According to the Los Angeles Times last May, “A reusable grocery bag left in a hotel bathroom caused an outbreak of norovirus-induced diarrhea and nausea that struck nine of 13 members of a girls’ soccer team in October, Oregon researchers reported Wednesday.” What’s worse, a study of reusable grocery bags in California and Arizona showed that 51 percent of them carried coliform bacteria. This was a direct result of shoppers keeping meat and vegetables in the same bag, and leaving the bags in warm cars for several hours.
While this may seem like a scare tactic employed by plastic bag makers to keep their industry from going under, the statistics don’t lie. So what can be done to save you and your family from disease and save the environment at the same time? The good news is that washing reusable bags after you shop will kill 99.9 percent of the germs in the bag, so be sure to pop them in the wash as soon as you get home.
As for the plastic bags that inevitably build up after a few trips to the store, there are plenty of safe ways to reuse those, too. If germs build up in reusable shopping bags, it is safe to assume that the same happens with plastic bags, as well, so using them to carry your lunch or bringing them back to the store to load up with groceries is out of the question since these bags cannot be washed. Here are five safe ways to use those pesky plastic bags over and over again:
1. Reuse them as mini trash-can liners. This is probably the easiest and most-often thought of way to reuse plastic bags. They fit perfectly in those little trash cans and make taking out the trash that much simpler. Similarly, you can also use them to pick up after your dog or tie around a dirty diaper to keep the smell from polluting your air.
2. Make a mini greenhouse. Tie a plastic bag around each of your plants to create a nice greenhouse that will keep your plant moisturized. This works great if you are going on vacation but don’t have anyone to water your plants for you, or if you are the type of person who forgets to water your plants often enough.
3. Create your own reusable tote bag. You can iron 6-8 layers of plastic bags together to create a sturdy “fabric” that you can make into a stylish tote bag. But remember, be sure to keep it clean!
4. Tie them around our rearview mirrors and windshield wipers. This keeps them from freezing while your car is parked outside at work. It sure beats scraping your windshield wipers off before you drive home.
5. Use them for your free time. Remember to always keep plastic bags out of reach of children. With that said, the adults in your family can use plastic bags for juggling practice because they take a long time to hit the ground, or for tying up wet paint brushes after painting, or to make a lightweight kite to fly on a beautiful day. You can also tear up strips of the bags and make them into yarn for knitting. The possibilities are endless!
For storing these bags, check out this tip from Offbeat Home: fold them into triangles like the little paper footballs you used to flick across desks when you were a kid. That way, they stay neat and out of the way until you are ready to use them.
How do you use your plastic bags? Leave some ideas in the comments.