5 Unusual Uses for Plastic Bags

By: Alia Hoyt
Not all plastic bags have such clearly defined uses.
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Even if you don't love to shop, you have to hit up a store every now and then for something. An inevitable side effect of shopping is the accumulation of plastic bags of all shapes and sizes. Pantries, closets and junk drawers everywhere are overflowing with them. Many of us don't like to toss them out; it seems like a terrible waste to simply send them off to a landfill.

Trillions of plastic bags made from sources such as natural gas or crude oil are produced each year. The United States alone creates and uses more than 100 billion of them per year, a measly 0.6 percent of which are recycled [source: World Watch Institute]. Plastic bags can take as long as 1,000 years to decompose and are a serious health risk to marine animals and other wildlife that ingest them accidentally [source: Reuters]. As a result, many big box retailers are taking measures to reduce their plastic bag consumption.


In the meantime, there are countless ways that this environmentally unfriendly -- but often very handy -- receptacle can be reused. Some of the easiest reuses for plastic bags are obvious. For example, they're excellent vessels for diaper disposal or taking a lunch to work (just make sure not to mix the two up). HowStuffWorks.com has put together a list of clever, less well-known ways to repurpose this common household item.

5: Plastic Bag Clothes

This runway could really use some plastic bag couture gowns.
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Could plastic one day rival polyester, silk or satin as a clothing material of choice? Though such a takeover is doubtful, Earth-conscious fashionistas enjoy concocting imaginative and colorful outfits using old plastic bags. From raincoats to sandals to entire 1950's style outfits, craftspeople peddle handmade plastic wares to eager consumers around the world [sources: Etsy, Craftster and Craftzine.com]. Major designers have even climbed aboard the plastic bag bandwagon. Plastic garbage bags had a major presence at runway fashion shows such as Basso & Brooke and Daryl K in 2007, serving as the fabric of choice in high-fashion ball gowns and other ensembles [source: Refinery29]. While plastic clothes may not be the most comfortable or breathable pieces around, at least an errant coffee spill could be easily wiped off the outfit!


4: Plastic Bag Knitting Material

This bag, woven from plarn, is a great tote to take to the beach. Sunscreen spills and sand wipe right off!
Photo courtesy Alia Hoyt

Who says a stylish handbag or beach tote has to come at a high price? Plastic bags are often turned into, well, more refined plastic bags by the hands of knitting and crocheting enthusiasts. Proving that one man's trash is another's treasure, crocheted bags can be made from old plastic bags that have been cut into thin strips. On a similar note, plain old wool yarn takes a back seat to plastic yarn, or plarn, which serious knitters use to create a more polished product. Recycled craftswoman Helle Jorgensen advises that it takes a long time to weave plarn, but it yields a unique finished product [source: Gooseflesh]. If the idea of making a bag from a bag sounds too redundant for your taste, plarn is also handy for weaving potholders, dish scrubbers and doormats.


3: Plastic Bag Protection

Playing in the dirt? Tie some plastic bags on to keep your knees clean and dry.
Photo courtesy Alia Hoyt

Plastic may not be as indestructible as titanium, but it can provide basic protection from the elements in certain situations. For example, don't let a surprise rainstorm ruin your new shoes or soak your clothes. A plastic garbage or large shopping bag with a few strategic holes cut in it can double as a poncho. Grocery bags are particularly handy as makeshift galoshes. Simply step into the bag and tie the handles around your ankles.

If you're a gardener, you can also wrap plastic bags around your knees to cushion them and keep them clean and dry while you kneel over a flowerbed. Plastic bags can even thwart the efforts of an unexpected frost if placed over delicate plants the night before.


Plastic bags can also be used as a cheap and easy alternative to other household items designed to protect surfaces and valuables. Use bags as a litter box liner, mattress cover, drop cloth and dustcover for items in storage.

2: Plastic Bag Arts and Crafts

Kids' crafts aren't limited to construction paper and glue. Give them some plastic bags and see what they create.
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Many expressive artists veer away from the traditional media of oil paint on canvas in favor of more unconventional art materials, such as plastic bags. Artist Helle Jorgensen has crafted an entire collection of sea creatures from old plastic bags [source: Gooseflesh]. For those of us with the itch to create, but in possession of less time (or talent, for that matter), hundreds of easy crafts using plastic bags as the primary material are just a Web search away. Artists Helping Children details dozens of imaginative plastic bag children's crafts, including film-container parachutes, Olympic medals and space capsules [source: AHC arts&crafts]. The Web site Two Peas in a Bucket suggests crafting an eco-wreath from garbage bags [source: Two Peas in a Bucket]. There may not be an excess of plastic bag crafts at your local museum or galleries, but working with a child to create something out of this repurposed material can create something more valuable than fine art: memories.


1: Plastic Bag Stuffing

Stuffing storage items with plastic bags will protect them when they're not in use.
Photo courtesy Alia Hoyt

Anyone who has ever received a package stuffed with plastic foam peanuts knows what a mess-waiting-to-happen this is. The peanuts that don't spill out all over the floor end up stuck to your shirt, pants, hair and even your hand when you're trying to scoop them up. What's more, they're not very environmentally friendly. The next time you send a package, spare the recipient the trouble of dealing with wayward peanuts: Use plastic bags as a mess-free option for cushioning materials. In fact, you can use bags for most of your stuffing needs (except the Thanksgiving turkey). Have breakables to pack up? Stuff the mouths of glasses or crystal with wadded up plastic bags, and then pad the rest of the box with more bags. Help out-of-use purses keep their shape by stuffing them with old bags. The same goes for curtain valances that need a little oomph and even decorative pillow shams for which you have no pillow.

With a little ingenuity, you'll find an unusual way to reuse the plastic bags you haul home from your next grocery store run. And if your imagination runs dry, avoid collecting them by opting for reusable totes.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Artists Helping Children. "Plastic Bags Arts and Crafts Ideas and Projects for Kids." http://www.artistshelpingchildren.org/plasticbagsartscraftsideasprojectskids.html
  • Calvert, Jo. "Plastic Bag Craft: Two Crocheted Tote Bags." Canadian Living. http://www.canadianliving.com/crafts/crochet/plastic_bag_craft_two_crocheted_tote_bags.php#view_comments
  • Craftster. "Crocheted grocery bag shoes." http://www.craftster.org/forum/index.php?topic=87737.0
  • Emmerson, Kassidy. "25 Brilliant Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags." Associated Content. March 15, 2006. http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/21700/25_brilliant_uses_for_plastic_grocery.html?cat=6http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/45263412.html
  • Engler, Sarah. "10 Smart Uses for Old Plastic Bags." Real Simple. http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/new-uses-for-old-things/10-smart-uses-old-plastic-bags-10000001097755/
  • Gooseflesh. "Plastic bag Yarn." http://hellejorgensen.typepad.com/gooseflesh/2007/02/plastic_bag_yar.html
  • Green Living Tips. "Recycled plastic bag crafts." Aug. 14, 2007. http://www.greenlivingtips.com/articles/138/1/Recycled-plastic-bag-crafts.html
  • Handmade Clothing on Etsy: Plastic Bag Rain Jacket by Penfelt.http://www.etsy.com/view_listing.php?listing_id=5214947
  • Pethokoukis, James. "Wal-Mart aims to curb plastic bag use." Reuters. Sept. 25, 2008. http://www.reuters.com/article/environmentNews/idUSTRE48O7IY20080925
  • Reader's Digest. "Extraordinary Uses for Plastic Bags." http://www.rd.com/advice-and-know-how/extraordinary-uses-for-plastic-bags/article23988.html
  • Worldwatch Institute. "Plastic Bags: A Necessary Eyesore?" http://www.worldwatch.org/node/1499