Plastic is a highly non-biodegradable material, which makes it ironic that the very bags we use to dispose of our trash are made out of it. Plastic items have got to be the easiest things to reuse and recycle, since most of these are containers and bags, but plastic ironically is one of the least-recycled consumer products in the US.
In fact, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that in 2008, only about 6.8 percent of the total amount of plastic generated was actually recycled, which is significantly lower than other materials such as metal, paper, and glass.
Furthermore, plastic bags are so widely used everywhere, everyday, that according to the EPA, around 100 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags are used and disposed of every year. That means we’ve used almost 3 trillion plastic bags from 2009-2011 alone.
The problem is, since plastic is non-biodegradable, these plastic bags and other plastic products stay in waste areas and landfills for hundreds of years, strongly contributing to the problematic pollution we already have.
This is why we should all start recycling plastic, even in little ingenious ways. Take the trusty black garbage bags we all know and, er, love, for one.
What makes these garbage bags special is that they’re made to be so strong and durable to hold trash in, and it’s these very same characteristics that make them so useful for a lot of other tasks and things. Garbage bags also make a cheaper alternative for some other everyday items.
There are dozens of ways to use, reuse, and recycle this household item, and here are some of them:
- Covers for basically anything. The great thing about garbage bags is how resistant they are. These plastic bags work well as covering — you can cover pretty much anything with them, and the garbage bag keeps the covered item clean and dry. You can keep your barbecue grill under there until after the next cookout, or pull a garbage bag over a synthetic Christmas tree you have so it’ll look nice and dust-free by the next Yuletide season. You can also use these garbage bags as dropcloths for when you’re painting and renovating around the house, keeping the furniture, floors and other surfaces free from paint and debris.
- Windshield protectors for snowy days. Keep your car’s windshield from frosting over by spreading a garbage bag over it, tucking the bag’s edges between the car doors and the wipers. This saves you a lot of time from defrosting and minimizes ice and water damage to your car, too!
- Sheets in case of roadside car repair emergencies. So you end up pulling over the side of the road due to car trouble, and you need to take a peek under the vehicle. You can pull out a garbage bag out of the trunk, spread it out on the road, and you can shimmy under the car without having to worry about getting your clothes wet or dirty, or both.
- Lining for luggage. We normally use garbage bags to line our wastebaskets and bins, so why can’t we do the same for our luggage? Going on camping and hiking trips exposes us and our things to the elements, so we need to make sure our bags can withstand practically anything. Keep your clothes and other knick-knacks dry and grime-free by lining your backpacks and other traveling bags with this handy plastic material.
- Storage. You can store pretty much anything in garbage bags, too. If you’re moving on short notice and you run out of boxes, you can use garbage bags instead. Just throw in all your stuff in there (but make sure to keep away any sharp object that could tear or puncture the bags) and you’re good to go. You can also keep seasonal clothes in good condition by storing them in these makeshift garment bags. Just make sure to keep the air out of the bag and maybe throw in a couple of moth balls in there before securing the end of the bag with a twist tie or string.
- Emergency rain or winter gear. This trick is commonly used by outdoor enthusiasts, and they’ve found that garbage bags make good rain coats, ponchos, and you can even improvise a winter coat of sorts from it by adding the garbage bag to your existing layer of clothes as a moisture barrier, and stuffing the bag with dry material like leaves and lichens for insulation.
- Repurposed ‘new’ things. You can use garbage bags in an assortment of craft projects and other items. Strips of the garbage bags can be coiled, knitted, pleated, or even stitched into baskets, rugs, and mats. You can even fashion a small bit of knitted plastic into a durable and effective scouring pad for cleaning around the house.
- Temporary patches. You can patch up your tent or any other similar camping gear with a piece of plastic cut out of the garbage bag. Just secure the plastic with some strong duct tape and you’re set. You can also use the garbage bag for covering up broken windows or any other openings during a storm to keep the wind and the water out of the house.
- Medical emergency items. You would need proper first aid training for this, of course, but clean garbage bags can actually save someone’s life! You can cut out a part of the plastic to secure wounds and keep them dry, maybe even hold vital body parts in place or even help deal with a collapsed lung.
These are only some of the things you can do with plastic garbage bags, so maybe you can choose to explore your options the next time you’re thinking of simply throwing them out with the trash. Who knows, you might even come up with other uses to fit your household needs. You’ll not only help lessen the massive amount of plastic pollution, but you’ll also have inexpensive yet effective alternatives for other everyday items.
May Flores is a freelance writer who occasionally does work for PlasticPlace.com, a wholesaler of trash bags, can liners and contractor bags. In her spare time, she also likes to create handmade items from recycled material.