Ask Unclutterer: Pesky plastic bags

Reader Robert submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

When I get back from shopping I keep getting plastic bags for every little thing I buy … I know, I know, I should be bring my own bag, but I tend to forget to take one with me when I go out.

The problem now is that I’ve got a nice collection of plastic bags and I’m wondering what to with them. Throwing them away in the trash seems the obvious answer, but I was hoping you might come up with alternatives.

I’m like you — I have a vast collection of reusable bags, yet I often forget to take them with me to the grocery store. I doubt we’re alone in our forgetfulness.

I keep the plastic bags and reuse them in numerous ways — to line small wastebaskets, as gloves when I have to pick up something yucky, to line the kitty litter box, to wrap around shoes in luggage, and to use as, well, bags. The point of recycling is to use a product more than once, so I definitely recommend going that route.

To store plastic bags before you reuse them, you can store them in a manufactured bag holder. You can also make your own holder, if you feel inclined. Storing them in an organized manner can help to keep your frustrations to a minimum about your growing collection.

In addition to the small handful of re-use suggestions I listed above, be sure to check the comments for even more ideas from our readers. If we’re lucky, all of us working together will find ways to help you reuse your plastic bags — and ours.

Thank you, Robert, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column.

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117 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Pesky plastic bags”

  1. posted by Jennifer on

    I stuff all of my reusable plastic bags into a used tissue box. It’s an easy and compact way to store them, and I have little stashes all over the house.

  2. posted by Deb on

    Many stores in my area have bins to collect those bags, so check your grocery and general merchandise stores for a place to drop them off for recycling as well.

  3. posted by Kari on

    I find I can only reuse so many; the rest go back to the store for recycling (our stores have a bin for plastic bags by the entry).

  4. posted by Conan on

    My local grocery store has a big ‘ol bin by the entrance where folks can put their old plastic bags. I assume they go somewhere and are recycled into the bags that the store gives out.

  5. posted by Random Michelle on

    In our area, local grocery stores take and recycle plastic bags, so look for recycle bins there.

    Second,I have several small reusable bags that fold up very small, and keep them in my purse and coat pockets, so I always have a bad with me.

    Flip & Tumble is one brand I believe, but I have some bags that fold up even smaller than that.

  6. posted by Ruth on

    I stuff ’em in empty small vertical pop-up tissue boxes, then keep one in my car, in the basement, and in the kitchen.

    But those bags multiply…so I often recycle or refuse to use them.

  7. posted by Ana on

    Agree with all above re: bins in front of grocery stores for recycling the bags. Also, parks around us have bins where people drop off bags for dog waste pick up. I usually bring my own for that task, but the one time I forgot, I was grateful to whomever stocked the bins!

    The reusable bags generally fold down to nothing. My husband and I each keep one in our work bags, and in the bottom of my son’s stroller. When we go out for a bigger shop, we just have to remember to bring more. We don’t have a car, but a lot of people I know store them in the car.

  8. posted by heather on

    Kitties get a shout out, but not dogs? Dog owners are pretty passionate about reusing plastic bags for scooping dog poop on walks.

    Where I’m from, when the City of Portland (Oregon) proposed a citywide plastic bag ban, many people were upset simply because their supply of free poop bags would be severely diminished (never mind that there are still bread bags, newspaper delivery bags, etc., to use for this purpose).

    While I understand the whole forgetfulness thing, even my mom has found success at remembering her reusable bags, by always storing them in the car that she drives to the store in. Be ready though—plastic bag bans will be come more, not less, widespread.

  9. posted by Celeste on

    Some people even knit them into (you guessed it!) bags.

  10. posted by Mackenzie on

    Cut them into strips and crochet the strips into a very sturdy reusable bag.

  11. posted by cng on

    My local library takes plastic bags and offers them to patrons when checking out their books.

  12. posted by Violet on

    Our local library has a place to collect plastic bags – it’s fabulous for those days when you realize, just after picking out some books, that it’s started to rain!

    Our local street outreach agencies also collect plastic bags – while reusable cloth bags are great for many purposes, the homeless population often needs plastic to keep their belongings dry while sleeping outdoors. (In fact, sometimes grocery stores donate brand new plastic bags because the demand is so high and people don’t think to donate the ‘used’ bags there!)

    My children’s school has started collecting some types of plastic bags – to use for making sleeping mats that are sent to impoverished countries. The mats are durable, washable, and often quite pretty with the various colours from the bags.

    I keep a few in my car for traveling with my kids – for barf bags (eep), holding wet clothing (also, eep!) and for collecting beach rocks that are still half-covered in sand.

  13. posted by Claudia on

    melt them and sew bags and purses!

  14. posted by Matthew on

    Like many of the others, I keep a few bags on hand for use as trash bags in small trash cans (all of which are stored inside a grocery bag in my pantry). Otherwise, they are taken back to the grocery store and dropped in the bag recycle bin.

    I keep my reusable bags stored in the car. Even if I forget them, it’s a quick trip back out to pick them up (or you can just push the cart out to the car after paying for it and bag them at the car).

    The biggest problem I had was remembering to take the just emptied bags from the house back to the car, so I now store them right beside the door. I can’t not see them, and I don’t like the clutter there so I’m sure to put them back where they belong.

  15. posted by Maria on

    If you’re looking to dispose your excess bags in a more “green” manner, many stores (including big-box chains like Wal-Mart) have recycling bins for plastic bags – helpful to get rid of ones that might not be reusable (ie have holes or broken handles). Some curbside recycling programs also accept plastic bags – I have the option of disposing of my extra bags in the bin with the rest of the week’s recyclables.

  16. posted by Judy on

    After I empty my reusable bags at home, I hang them on the handle of the main door. The next time I go out, I grab them and pop them in the car, so they’re sure to be there when I need them. When I buy reusable bags, I purchase them at my favorite places (like vacation spots), so I remember to use them because they have happy memories.

    If we do get plastic bags from stores, we use them as packing material for fragile items, as trash bags or for kitty litter.

  17. posted by Tami on

    Our local St. Vincent de Paul also loves donations of unused plastic bags.

    As for the re-usable grocery bags, I echo the above thought on keeping them in the car rather than in the house. I’d still forget to bring them into the store periodically, but it only took about a month of off-and-on-forgetting before I started to build the habit. Now my car is where those bags “live”. After emptying the groceries, I just haul them back and put them in the trunk the next time I go to the car.

    The excess plastic baggies are also good if you need to ship something that’s a little off balance or too small for the box you’re using. They fill out empty space nicely. ^_^

  18. posted by Pollinator on

    Plastic bags make great packing material!

  19. posted by Honkytonkfoodie on

    I only use Target bags for reuse because they are quite sturdy. Others get recycled at the grocery store.


  20. posted by Karen on

    Even if you don’t have a dog, you might see if your community has an off-leash park. Bins by the gates to these parks often hold a variety of plastic bags for folks to use while there. It encourages people to pick up after their dogs so all can enjoy a clean park!

  21. posted by Alyosha on

    A tip for remembering to have reusable bags with you: keep them in your car. My grocery bags live in my car. When I buy groceries, I unpack them and leave the bags by the door so that I remember to take them back out to the car the next time I go out. I also keep a more lightweight reusable bag (Envirosax, from, are my preferred ones because they roll up quite small) in my purse for times when I’m just out and happen to buy something. It’s also useful if I buy more groceries than normal and use all my grocery bags and a bit more.

  22. posted by Mo on

    I have more than enough reusable bags, but I almost bought one I saw which said “I usually leave this bag in the car.”

  23. posted by Visty on

    We use reusable bags most of the time, but we do bring in plastics now and then. I keep a few, and when there are too many I put them on the front seat of my car. It might be days before I go to the grocery store again, but I know it can’t possible slip my mind. With kids and cats, I can’t leave them anywhere around the house and expect them to stay for days. The front seat of my car has been a good solution.

  24. posted by Kate on

    I always find a way to reuse my plastic bags, and usually run out of them actually (I have a dog + I use them as trash bags, etc.) What drives me nuts is the brown paper bags that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods use (where I usually shop), because they take up a lot more room, and they aren’t really as useful. (I do try to bring my bags, and remember about half the time.) I made the mistake of asking for plastic at Whole Foods a few years ago, and was told snidely by the cashier that they don’t use plastic because it’s so bad for the environment…I had to bite my tongue to not ask her what she puts her trash in or how she picks up dog poop.

  25. posted by Katie on

    A “make your own” storage that’s worked great for me is stuffing them into an empty “fridge pack” box from cans of pop.

  26. posted by jess on

    A lot of shops in the UK let you buy reusable bags at the checkout – if you keep buying them and ban yourself from using plastic bags then eventually you’ll get more used to remembering – once you’ve learnt your lesson you can donate the extra bags to friends and family!

  27. posted by Laura on

    Donate them to your local animal shelter.

  28. posted by Erin on

    A few years ago, while vacationing in Banff/Jasper area, we were charged extra for the plastic bag. It was enough of an upcharge that we declined and carried our few grocery items out by hand. I have used this experience to help motivate me to remember to bring my reusable bags when I shop. I may not be charged for plastic bags now, but some day?? I hope I’ve developed the habit if/when that day comes.

  29. posted by Ann on

    I like recycling, but am always distressed that, in many cases, the once used item is not being re-used as recycled, but is being “reprocessed” either into the same thing or something else. When consumes energy.

    I like the mantra of REDUCE – REUSE – RECYLE in that we should try to reduce our consumption of something, but if we must use it, use it several times to reduce the use of new ones, and then then then recycle.

    I keep my plastic bags in a paper towel tube.

  30. posted by Jodi on

    I wanted something a little more attractive than just a used tissue box to store my plastic bags, so I got one of these:;N=71801

    Works out pretty well.

  31. posted by Lori Paximadis on

    @Kate, I find the paper bags handy for collecting the shredder scraps to go into the recycling dumpster (shredded paper has to be bagged, but no plastic is allowed).

    Count me in with those whose reusable bags “live” in the car, in a nice little basket on the passenger seat along with the phone charger and iPod-to-stereo cord and compact umbrella. Sure, it takes some time to get in the habit of grabbing them and taking them with you, but the reduction in waste is totally worth it.

    Just remember to toss your reusable bags in the wash once in a while.

  32. posted by Katie on

    I keep about five reusable bags of different sizes and thermal insulations in my car… but every now and then, I’ll go into the store without them to restock on plastic bags. (and if I get too many, I’ll just recycle in the big bin outside the grocery store!)

    As some others have posted, I use plastic grocery bags to line the small garbage can in my bathroom. I also use them for packing material if I ever need to ship something.

    I tend to just store the bags inside another one of the plastic bags under my sink… but I really like the kleenex box idea! I will have to give that a try.

    BTW, I just found this blog this past weekend, and it’s wonderful! Great tips! 🙂

  33. posted by Morty on

    Solve both issues at once: fold up the plastic bags neatly and keep some in your wallet, in your car, on bike, etc. Use them until they wear out and then recycle them. Two folding methods to help with this.

  34. posted by Gumnos on

    Is it just me? We use a (larger sturdier) bag from an area store (I think it’s a Target bag currently) in which to store all our other bags.

    The idea of storing them in a unitasking “manufactured bag holder” seems antithetical to the site 🙂 If your collection is small enough, I think the idea mentioned above of using a tissue-box is pretty keen, but we keep a pretty decent-sized collection as they’re our main trash-bag (and diaper-bin liner) source.

    I jockey my choice of canvas-bags vs. getting plastic based on our current supply and which stores I’m hitting (some like Target & Sprouts give $0.05 credit per bag; some require BYOB like ALDI; and our Kroger doesn’t provide an incentive either way)

  35. posted by amie on

    I second Judy’s suggestion about keeping reusable bags on the door handle – it makes it quite hard to go out without grabbing them. I then roll them up and put them in the pockets of my car doors (otherwise then tend to clutter up the car…). Even then, sometimes you might forget, so one that fits in your purse is a great idea.

    For those days when I do end up with plastic bags, I then put them in a plastic bag organizer (I use the inexpensive Rationell Variera from Ikea). This is kept on the cabinet door below the sink, out of view.

  36. posted by JessA on

    The day we had a whole garbage bag full of plastic bags was the day I knew I needed to change my habits. Recycling the bags is a start, but not making them is better, just making plastic causes pollution.

    So, I set out to make it a habit to use cloth bags.

    I confess it took me a year to really get the habit. Yes, a year. If I remembered to put them in car, I forgot to bring them in the store. If I remembered to bring them in the store, I forgot to give them to the clerk.

    But I didn’t give up, I just kept trying and, now, it is a habit. When I go shopping, I grab my bags as readily as I grab my purse.

    -Buy your bags at Goodwill, they are only .49 apiece
    -Get a couple that can fit in your purse, I have one that can hook to my wallet, when I pull it out to pay, there’s my bag.
    -after you empty your bags, put them right by the door so you take them out to the car the next time

  37. posted by lucy1965 on

    I use Reuseit’s Workhorse Originals, which fold up into their own attached storage bag and go into my bag as soon as I’ve put the contents away; cat litter waste goes into BioBags (so do meat scraps — veggie scraps go in the green waste bin), as the city won’t allow us to flush it, and my commitment to the environment stops at home vermiculture.

  38. posted by Mags on

    We keep them:
    – in a wicker bike basket hanging on the wall in the kitchen
    – in our bags

    We don’t drive, so having them in our bags means we can’t forget them.

    If I accidentally end up with the free plastic bags, I save them for when I’m using weedkiller in the garden – put the bag around the weed and then spray so the poison doesn’t go on the non-weeds.

  39. posted by herisff on

    I fold my plastic bags into triangles, and then store them in a decorative cloisonne ginger jar that I’ve had for years. Whenever the dogs get walked, I pull 2 or 3 to go with me. Since they are so small, it’s easy to slip some into a pocket. When the jar is full, the extras go back to the grocery store for recycling. I remember about 90% of the time to bring reusable bags while grocery shopping, so I don’t accumulate too many. And then, my neighbor just “gifted” me with some, too, so I have lots on hand! Of course, she buys her poop bags from the store. I just don’t get that…

    My problem is acquiring paper bags for recycling – every once in a while, I need to actually ask for paper bags at the store. Then I fill/empty it several times until it’s too beat up to be used again, then on to the next bag.

  40. posted by EngineerMom on

    Our recycling company accepts all forms of plastic, including plastic bags. Check with your recycling company, or check around for recycling boxes at grocery and other stores, like some other comments suggest.

    While my parents still lived near us, I would give our bags to my parents for containing dog poop. With two dogs, they went through 4 bags per day!

    Another alternative is to just refuse a bag at the point of purchase. For example, if I’m just stopping into the store for a few items I can easily carry or put in my purse, I just ask for no bag.

  41. posted by Cindy on

    Composite decking is (well, it was when I toured a plant a few years ago) made from recycled plastic bags and sawdust! Not only do you not have to re-stain your deck, but you can feel good about dropping off all those pesky plastic bags. I always get rid of the ones with holes or liquid/condensation first, then I keep the rest for trash can liners, “special diapers” that don’t belong in the genie, and the stuff Erin mentioned in her response.

  42. posted by camellia tree on

    For the nicer shopping bags (i.e., with handles)- thrift stores can sometimes use these. There is a women’s shelter near my house that has a thrift store in it (everything is free and given by appointment), and they are always happy to have shopping bags.

  43. posted by Kim on

    We just save them all week and take them to the grocery – food stores usually have the recylce bin. I remember to take the reusable bag more often if I keep it in the front seat of the car.

  44. posted by Sue on

    The easy answer is to make a better effort to bring your reusable bags with you. I used to forget mine until I make a conscious effort to turn it into a habit.

    I prefer those envirosack/reisenthal ones that fold down into a tiny little pouch. They are about the same size as the crappy plastic ones, but they are much studier and when not in use, are so easy to carry in my bag or pocket. People are always impressed when I say “I have a bag” and whip out one of those.

  45. posted by Allison on

    Put a plastic bag in a pocket of every jacket and bag/purse/briefcase, so that next time, you will already have a plastic bag, without having to specifically remember to take one. If you have a car, keep a bunch of the extra bags in the trunk or glove compartment.

  46. posted by ninakk on

    Tough love. If you forgot the bag in your car, carry your stuff in your hands or go back to the car to get it. If you forgot the bag at home, carry your stuff in your hands. Seriously, this type of forgetfulness has only one cure. Alter habits. It ain’t fun but if you want to change, you’ll find a way to do so.

    Fruit bags are basically the only plastic bags allowed into our house, because they are used during the daily cleaning of the kitty toilet. For trash purposes we buy a roll of twenty or so bags, which becomes a lot cheaper and they don’t have to be the sturdy type either. My husband is forgetful but even he is beginning to see the wastefulness of buying plastic carrier bags and I’ve told him to rather get one of the fairtrade cotton ones than a plastic one the few times that he forgets.

  47. posted by guest in ca on

    I started carrying reusable bags years ago. I keep them in the cabinet under the spot where I usually park my shopping list, & gathering the bags (I now have a set that fits in their own zipper pouch) is part of the process of leaving to shop.

    There are a lot of interesting craft ideas for things to make from the plastic bags from stores. If you cut them into strips you can weave, crochet, or knit with them. Use one as a pattern to make reusable bags from your old t-shirts 🙂 I donate some to our Friends of the Library for their book sale day.

  48. posted by Jeri Dansky on

    Any organization that does food distribution would probably also love to get the bags. That’s where I take my clients’ excess bags.

  49. posted by Anita on

    Plastic bags breed in cupboards, I’m sure of it!

    To curb my intake of plastic bags, I:
    – carry a large purse (no need for another bag when you’re got a big hobo bag to toss things into)
    – always have a reusable shopping bag in my large purse (a canvas grocery bag in my case. Takes a bit of getting used to, but once the habit is formed, it becomes second nature, just like making sure my phone or wallet of lip balm is in my bag)
    – refuse the bag — in cases where the salesperson asks whether I want a bag, this is pretty obvious, but there are always stores that give you a bag by default, and I always feel a bit bad when my shopping is already in a bag before I’ve had a chance to say anything. In those cases I generally just take the bag, since the salesperson has gone through the effort of wrapping everything already, but I always try to catch it before it happens and let them know I don’t need a bag.

  50. posted by Melanie on

    You can send them to me … I always bring my re-usable bags to the store (our grocery store gives bonus loyalty points if you bring your own bags) and so I have a severe shortage of plastic bags at my house. This means that whenever I want to line a wastebasket (and I always do, because washing dirty wastebaskets is GROSS and I hate doing it) I am always scrounging all over to try and find a plastic bag I can use. On principle, I am against BUYING brand new plastic bags just for the purpose of holding garbage and throwing it away… so what I have ended up doing is going to the plastic bag recycling bin at my local grocery store, and when no one is looking, I swipe a bag of bags… hey, someone else is throwing them out, so why shouldn’t I take them? I guess those of you that have grocery stores that support bag recycling can drop off your unwanted bags there, if you don’t want to send them to my house 🙂

  51. posted by momoboys on

    I pack my breakable Christmas ornaments in them, and any packages I ship at Christmas, too. May not “breathe” like paper, but so far I’ve never had a problem. Probably been doing this for 10 years or so.

  52. posted by Sophie on

    Having a hard time remembering to bring them from home or from the car into the store? Do what I do… I sort of make myself go to the extra effort as a punishment by not bagging my groceries in store, but doing it out at my car, or even when I get home. Bring the groceries to the bags and you’ll get tired of it and remember better to bring bags.

    I hate plastic bags and they just are really terrible for the environment. RECYCLE THEM! I recycle them at my store too. And I’ll carry things out rather than bring the bag with me to clutter my house.

  53. posted by Rosemary on

    I take mine to the YMCA to leave in the dressing rooms for people who have forgotten a bag to hold their wet swimwear.

  54. posted by Jen on

    Even with using the re-usable bags, I still end up with plastic bags. I like to take them to the grocery store to recycle, but my biggest problem was remembering to take them with me when I went shopping. I’ve solved this by putting the plastic bags INTO my re-usable bags, so they automatically go with me to be recycled any time I go shopping!

  55. posted by Rebecca on

    I like the suggestion of donating the bags to the local animal shelter. I’ve always found plenty of people willing to take a donation of plastic bags including the local spice shop, the folks at childcare (for sending home dirty clothes), and the gym or yoga studio.

  56. posted by Tara on

    I keep half for misc. purposes, the rest go to my daughters daycare centre. They use them for wet clothes, disposal of nappies, garbage etc etc

  57. posted by Ninjahippies on

    Bring your old plastic bags to your local dog park – they are ALWAYS APPRECIATED!

    (Empty gallon milk jugs, cleaned out and filled with water are also appreciated by thirsty puppies!)

  58. posted by infmom on

    Here in California, you can take the plastic bags back to the grocery store and stuff them in their recycling bin.

    As for forgetting the reusable bags, just store them in the trunk of your car.

  59. posted by Mary on

    I use reusable bags for groceries and I also have reusable mesh produce bags. But I try and get a few plastic bags, usually put my frozen items in them, in order to use them as my kitchen trash bags. But I use a bag holder from Ikea to hold them. I love that holder!

  60. posted by CDG on

    I wish I could remember what blog thread I was reading, but somebody who was a grocery store employee said that they always emptied the plastic bag recycle container into their main trash. A couple others who had worked at grocery stores chimed in to say this was common at their place too and that it was mostly a feel-good thing for customers. Now I dunno how much stock to place on anonymous commenters, but, well, it lowered my trust in that little system.

    It is really hard to undo a lifetime of shopping conditioning to remember those reusable bags – I keep them in the car, have put a sticky note on my steering wheel (which falls off) and even set a phone alarm at the common shopping time. I think if I actually made myself go out and get them the moment I realize they’re in the car, that would make the necessary impact, but I’m usually so “done” at that point.

  61. posted by Ruth on

    Your local food pantry or homeless shelter can use the bags for distributing food and personal items to people who need them.

  62. posted by Kyle on

    I mostly just reuse my bags for lunches and things but I pretty much cured myself of forgetting my reusable bags by not allowing myself to buy anything if I needed to get a plastic bag for it. It was a tough month or two, going back home for bags, getting to the store and realizing I didn’t have my bags and so couldn’t buy anything, etc., but now it’s very, very rare that I forget my bags. Maybe I would have caved if I’d needed to buy formula or life-saving drugs or something (although I suppose I could have just put a prescription bottle in my pocket) but a zero-tolerance policy for plastic bags did the trick for me.

  63. posted by Klyla on

    Somebody said to melt them?!! Many plastics are LETHAL when overheated….one whiff and you might be the goner before the bag! Don’t EVER melt ANY plastic unless it is specifically designed for that purpose.

  64. posted by Barb on

    As a preschool teacher I use bags! Soiled clothes, wet mittens & snowpants, & kids who forget their backpacks & have stuff to take home. Please donate your bags to local daycare, nursery school, kindergarten classes, etc.

  65. posted by Leslie Sifers on

    I was just at two local charity shops today, and they both were asking people to donate their unwanted plastic bags.

  66. posted by Lea on

    I keep the ones that are hole free in a cloth holder for reuse for garbage & other bin liners, saving me paying for bags as bin liners.
    Yes, I paid for the cloth bag 20 years ago but it hasn’t degraded and lets me put in at the top and use from the bottom

    The ones that have holes in I put aside in another plastic bag and when the bag is full I take them to the local childcare centre – they are desperate for them as soiled clothing goes is bagged to go home with the children.

    The lighter bags I get fruit and veg in are put aside for bagging the dogs’ meat (we are raw feeders) so, again, I’m not paying for plastic bags there. I buy in bulk and freeze in daily lots. I wouldn’t reuse them for our meat, but they are fine for the dogs’ meat.

  67. posted by Rebecca on

    I keep my reusable bags in the trunk of my car. To keep myself from forgetting them when I go into a store I automatically put my purse in the trunk with them. If I have to pop the trunk to get my purse, there are the bags. So simple.

  68. posted by April on

    Most people I know stuff the bags into an empty tissue box.

    Also, the bags make decent stuffing when mailing a package. Lightweight, but still protects the stuff inside the box (just scrunch ’em and shove them in the box around the item).

  69. posted by deb on

    I’m with Melanie, we reuse so many that we always seem to run out. Buying bags in order to throw things away just doesn’t make sense to us either. I’ve often wondered about pilfering the plastic bag recycle bin at Kroger, maybe I will next time we need more.

  70. posted by STL Mom on

    In my town, I can recycle plastic bags at two of the grocery stores, or at the Carson Pirie Scott department store. That last one surprised me!
    Oddly enough, the other grocery store that sells lots of organic food and bulk food, doesn’t recycle bags, not even the ones they give you.

  71. posted by Megan on

    Find a mom with a new baby and give them to her. They are invaluable for poopie diapers. I wish I didn’t have to use them, but cannot figure out how to keep them from stinking up the can otherwise.

  72. posted by Leah on

    I second the envirosax — really easy to keep one in my purse, and then I keep a stash of reusable bags in each car.

    We have a cat, and we use grocery bags for liners. Despite never actually bringing home plastic bags (okay, maybe my boyfriend gets them once every other month because he doesn’t shop much and often forgets bags), we always have a ready supply. I’m not sure where the plastic bags come from. I’m all for taking the bags if you actually need them. But know that “recycling” the bags at the store often isn’t to useful (plastic gets downcycled into lower quality stuff, and plastic bags are already pretty low quality). Far better to figure out some way to remember your reusable bags and only take plastic when you’re running low on your stash for dog pickup/trash can lining/kitty litter.

  73. posted by Kelsey on

    A grocery store in my town turned all of their recycled plastic bags into a bench!

  74. posted by Nerida on

    While Robert (initial post) said “I keep getting plastic bags for every little thing I buy”, I find that for little things, one off purchases, newspaper, milk – if I can carry it where it needs to go, I politely decline the bag when it’s offered. Some other shoppers have said that it’s rude, that you need to have the carry bag as proof of purchase or some other flimsy reasoning – I have never found my refusal to cause a problem. In fact, when combined with a smile, it can lead to shop assistants seeing the humour in offering a large bag to carry a single small book. This means I get what I need without any extra clutter to deal with.

  75. posted by Hallie on

    Here is a bag that you will not forget to bring with you when shopping because it folds up small enough to fit in your purse (or coat pocket) so you can bring it everywhere you go.

    Plus it’s stylish–but if you don’t like the Met’s hieroglyphics I’ve seen this elsewhere with different designs.

  76. posted by janey on

    I put a paper grocery bag into a plastic walmart bag for trash. Like it lots better than my regular trash can, & don’t have to buy bags. The handles on the plastic bag tie over the paper bag, so it’s easy to carry out. & doesn’t weigh like a big trash bag does.

  77. posted by Heather on

    Here in Ontario stores are now required to charge the customer for each plastic bag they get…and that really made a difference. Most of us keep cotton bags in our cars so we just grab a few when we go into the store. The charge is only .05 a bag but people do not like to pay it!

  78. posted by Tanya on

    Your local Meals on Wheels chapter may be able to use them. In our area, the drivers use plastic grocery bags to pack up the hot meal along with the containers of milk, bread, and fruit that are to be carried into the recipient’s home.

  79. posted by Grammie Linda on

    I am rather surprised at the number of repeat comments–it seems like maybe some people may not have seen how many times their comment has been made before adding another one. It makes this list seem cluttered.

    For us, though, the big problem of plastic bags is more the plastic that things come in. I like Charmin toilet paper, but it is frequently double-bagged–a large bag and then the sets of four are bagged. Those are the ones that need to be recycled because the alternative uses don’t come up much (like using as packing material, which is how Mom off-loaded hers to us). When you start bagging those items you start realizing how much plastic we really use.

  80. posted by Sonja on

    My Grandma used to cut them into strips and crochet them into really cool rugs she gave away. Everyone loved getting them! Since she’s gone I guess I should try my hand at it to get rid of all my bags. I usually use my reusable bags so I don’t gather many but I do have a few around that I use for the bathroom trash.

  81. posted by Michele on

    If you carry a purse or a man purse, you can buy one of these and you will never forget your bag in the car again! I have a couple of these in different colors. They hold a ton of stuff, fold up tiny and have a carabiner so you can attach it easily to the handle of your purse!

  82. posted by JustGail on

    I guess my only idea not mentioned is to NOT just wad up the bag and stuff it in the container. Hold the handle and bottom, and tug to straighten it out. Then hold the bottom, wrap the bag around your hand a couple of times, then wrap the handles around and through the hole. This gets rid of the air inside the bag so they take up much less room.

  83. posted by ecuadoriana on

    I agree with ninakk – tough love! How did everyone get so “forgetful”?! C’mon, we don’t forget out keys, wallets, cellphones, lunch, kids…every time we leave the house! Why? Because we make those things a priority!! Remember when there was a time when you didn’t bring a telephone into the car with you?! Now people can’t seem to go into a public rest room with out bringing their cell phone with them! If people can keep keys, wallets, etc. by the door & remember to bring them out with them, what’s so hard about storing a reusable shopping bag by the door?

    And what did everyone do before the invention of plastic bags?! There was even a time before paper bags!

    I’ve been using the same woven plastic-nylon bag for 25 years! No kidding. It was one of the original bags recycled from plastic and it still is holding up. Just goes to show how long plastic lasts, so imagine how much plastic is in our ground and waterways and how long into our great great grandchildren’s lives that plastic will live on!!! Horrible! I also have made a few of my own shopping bags from fabric. Some of my designs are so great that I’ve got a bit of a side business making them for other people!

    The whole doggie poop thing is crazy. One is still tossing the plastic bag- full of dog poop- into the trash, into a landfill. Or worse- onto the side of the road when they think no one is looking (yeah, I’m talking to you, my nasty neighbor who thinks I don’t seen you throw that bag into the bushes in the park! A pox on your house!) I have a friend who carries an old tupperware container. She scoops it up using the lid, seals the lid on, and carries it home in her special dog walking purse. At home she dumps it into the toilet and washes out the container. She’s been using that same tupperware box for 20 years!

    Tough love. Set priorities. Make a commitment. We all know the 3 R’s- Recycle, Reuse, and Reduce. But what about Refuse!

  84. posted by Dawn on

    We are chronic forgetters as well 🙁 Or sometimes we go to smaller stores for one item and don’t think to bring in a bag. I vow from here on out to do better…

    But we take ours to the dog park when we go. They have pvc tubes there for plastic bags. Even if you don’t have a dog you could drop off a bag full at your local dog park. If there aren’t already storage areas for bags at the park, just leave them in a larger bag hanging from the chain link fence. If we go back in a week almost all the bags are gone. I would like to see the store bags completely gone some day, but putting them to good use will do in the meantime 🙂

  85. posted by Laurel on

    I think the only thing I’ll add is that I’ve had people happily come pick up the blue & yellow bags our weekend newspaper comes in when I freecycle a big bag of them.

  86. posted by tokumei on

    You can also try the IKEA-version, named RATIONELL VARIERA
    Plastic bag dispenser, at

  87. posted by Jackthetiger on

    There were a number of elderly ladies who used to swim regularly at a local beach. They used to crochet wide brimmed, waterproof hats from plastic bags to avoid sunburn which is a huge issue in Australia.
    We keep seven envirosax in the map pouch inside the driver’s door of our car. They are hard to miss. I love the look and longevity of the envirosax and they are a highly ethical company.
    We do not use plastic in our rubbish, but wrap items in sheets of newspaper and place them in the bin.

  88. posted by joe on

    FYI…many supermarkets around me have big garbage cans out the front where you can recycle your plastic bags. Just make sure you are only putting the correct kinds of bags in there. If your supermarket doesn’t ofter this, suggest it to the management. Keep an eye out and you may find that another supermarket takes back bags and you can drop them off over there occasionally.

  89. posted by mara on

    As a grocery store clerk, I know how often people forget their reusable bags… the best tip I have heard is after you use them, run out and put them back in your car so you don’t forget!

    Plastic bags are nasty for the environment too… they require petrochemicals (i.e., oil) to manufacture, so if you forget your bags ask for paper instead! Many grocery stores (I’m thinking especially of Trader Joe’s) will take back paper bags and recycle them if you don’t want to reuse them for other things. 🙂

  90. posted by lena on

    Plastic bags aren’t necessary for individual produce or anything… As long as you wash items before you use them, it will be fine! It’s also a myth that plastic bags “insulate” cold items better than paper, so it’s better to do without!

  91. posted by Mary Kate on

    I use the reusable shopping bags and used to forget them all the time as well. Now I put the bags back in the trunk of my car as soon as the groceries are unpacked. Also, I find that usually my 4 reusable bags are sufficient for a week’s groceries, but when it’s a big shopping trip and we wind up needed to use the plastic bags as well, I will put the bags inside the reusable bag before it goes back in the trunk. The next time I go to the store, I put the bags in their recycling bin (they have one specifically for bags).

  92. posted by Marc on

    My community recently started a “bag ban” that fines stores that only use plasic to bag purchases. We need to pay $1/order bagged in plasitc as an “enviromental tax”.

    We are forced to use reusable bags, which we keep in our car after emptying so they are not forgotten.

  93. posted by darris on

    Plastic bags will become a thing of the past for everyone because they have a tremendously negative effect on our environment and oceans. Check out Beth Terry’s blog, ‘My Plastic Free Life’ at: for great information about how to live plastic free.

  94. posted by Beth Terry @ My Plastic-free Life on

    Remembering to bring your reusable bags won’t become a habit if you let yourself off the hook each time you forget. When we were first trying to train ourselves to remember our reusable bags, we ended up carrying stuff out in our shirts a couple of times. One green blogger I know carried her purchases out to the car in her cart, then at home, she brought her reusable bags to the car to carry her purchases into the house. She refused to give in and take a plastic bag just because she forgot her reusables.

    One thing that makes it EASY to remember reusable bags is to invest in some Chico Bags. They stuff into their own tiny attached sack and fit easily into a purse or backpack. I carry several with me every time I go out and am never without a bag anymore.

  95. posted by hkw on

    We use ours for dog poop, and like others have said, even occasionally risk running out when I’m being really good about remembering reusable bags. If you have a big supply, something tiny like a paper towel roll or tissue box won’t cut it. I have two of these small, silver garbage pails in my pantry, one filled with dog food and the other with plastic bags.

    As for carrying a plastic container for scooping dog poop, bless your heart if you’re that committed, but just getting most people in our neighborhood to scoop at all would be an enormous victory. I consider myself pretty eco-friendly, but no way am I jogging five miles holding a giant container of dog poop! Like you said, we all have our priorities. 😎

  96. posted by Christine on

    Seconding, thirding? the Envirosax bags – they’re awesome. I also have some Sierra Club bags in the same design that fold into little itty bags – three stay in my car and one is always in my purse.

    But for those times when I didn’t take in enough bags and I end up with some bad plastic bags, if I can’t shove then in a recycle unit, they go to Meals on Wheels, which uses them as lunch bags.

  97. posted by James on

    There are a number of charity shops in my area. I tend to donate mine to them. they’re always asking for them.

  98. posted by Lizzie on

    I’m late to the party on this, and slightly off topic, but everyone should be careful about using your reusable shopping bags (not the ones that fold into nothing) with food and toys. Some of them have been found to have unsafe levels of lead…and I definitely had some old ones where the linings were flaking. (These were the ones which I could take to our CSA every week and hose out after I’d emptied them…yum…a little dusting of lead on my local, organic produce!) We still use them for many things. (Not the flaking bags, though.) But produce and toys travel in nylon shopping bags.

  99. posted by Living the Balanced Life on

    I use a cermaic cookie jar on my counter to keep my bags in. I am trying more and more to use my shopping bags, and know I am making progress when my *cookie jar* gets low!

  100. posted by Robert on

    Wow, I mailed Unclutterer, not thinking it would be posted, let alone commented on this much! 🙂

    I haven’t read all the comments yet, but I’m going to!

    On a sidenote, I’m from the Netherlands, so some of the suggestions are likely not to work or be available where I’m from.

    Thanks Erin, for posting my question!

  101. posted by RazMaTaz on

    You can always donate them to your local elementary school or daycare center? Schools can always use them and would appriciate them.

  102. posted by Frances on

    We use reusable bags too but those plastic bags still find their way in our home! I return them to the store to recycle. Even the produce bags are recyclable. We don’t use the bags for trash anymore because then they end up in landfills where it takes hundreds of years for them to decompose. Instead we use biodegradable bags for trash and dog waste. Please don’t throw plastic away!

  103. posted by Kairisika on

    An empty kleenex box makes an excellent storage/dispenser for plastic grocery bags.

  104. posted by Jo on

    On January 1, 2010, Washington, DC became the first major city in the US to impose a surcharge on disposable paper and plastic bags. Bring your own or pay 5 cents per bag—and some stores offer a 5 cent refund (carrot + stick). The results? Phenomenal. During 2009, plastic bag use was approximately 22.5 million per month. In January of 2010, the number fell to 3 million, and $150,000 was collected to help clean up the Anacostia River. A recent environmental study had found 21% of trash in the river and 47% in the river’s tributaries is plastic bags. Obviously most local citizens quickly found a way to deal with the new regulations and become part of a solution. Now we all have our collection of colorful bags tucked in our purses, cupboards and trunks. It works!

  105. posted by June Lemen on

    We resuse them first — for carrying things and for nasty spills that we feel have to be bagged. I dont tend to amass a lot of them, but when I do, I take them to the Nashua Soup Kitchen and Shelter. They use them for giving out food bags and toiletries.

  106. posted by Nicole on

    Plastic shopping bags are great for packing fragile items. I use them as padding for dishes, holiday decorations, etc.

  107. posted by sara on

    Hello Robert- Most towns in the Netherlands now have a plastic-recycle program; look for the big green containers with the little orange guy on them, mostly near supermarkets. Also, Hema sells really spiffy reusable (and foldable!) bags for something lijk €3,-, in a large variety of colours. I’m not sure the thrift-shops / Kringloopwinkels would really like your bags, as they always seem to have a surplus of themselves. But having a dog or a baby helps with disposing of your bags, mostly for the same reason, wich is poop. 🙂 Veel succes met opruimen. Laat je motto zijn: Weg Ermee!

  108. posted by Maureen on

    Keeping reusable bags in the car is the best way to remember (you’ll ALWAYS have them on hand when you go out). I have a little fabric pop-up box that I keep on the floor in the backseat and my bags live in there.
    When trying to kick a bad habit like accepting plastic bags it can also help to make a personal challenge out of the situation. Example: This month I will not, for whatever reason, accept a plastic bag. Think of it as a resolution. Eventually it will become a habit in and of itself. Then you can move on to making plastic reductions in other parts of life (like food and product packaging). Seeing how much waste I can reduce is kind of a fun game for my household.

  109. posted by Sharon on

    I’m not ashamed to say that I use the plastic bags. I keep some for uses around the house and take the rest to the recycle bin at the grocery store. I have no problem using plastic bags since they are re-used and recycled. One idea is using plastic bags to stuff pillows, especially outdoor cushions. Plastic bags are good for berry picking…put it over your wrist or tie to your belt and start picking.

  110. posted by Marie @ Awakeatheart on

    I have rule now. If I forget the reusable bags, I will refuse one unless it’s TRULY necessary (like it’s pouring rain and I’m buying books). If I carried the items for purchase up to the registers, I most certainly can carry them out to the car without a bag. If I’m grocery shopping and I left them in the trunk of the car, I put all the groceries back into the cart after they’re scanned and I bag everything at my car. If the salesperson put items into a bag while I wasn’t looking, I take them out and smile and say “one less piece of plastic!”. They usually smile back and say it’s a good point.

    I’ve reduced the amount of plastic bags by at least 80%. Where before I was overrun with the darn things now I only have a few for poo pickup and such.

  111. posted by Bryan on

    Stick them in your shoes — the shoe serves as storage plus, the bags help the shoe keep its form

  112. posted by Sandra on

    I used an old empty box of tissues as holder and keep it under the sink in the kitchen, close to trash bin and I use the plastic bags I get at the stores as trash bags.

  113. posted by Vera on

    I store plastic bags that are the right size for garbage cans at the bottom of each can itself. As I take out the trash, there’s a new liner, right there!

  114. posted by james on

    Take all of the plastic bags, stuff them in another plastic bag, take them to the nearest dog run, hang them on a fence. Dog owners will use them to pick up doodoo and keep the dog run clean.

  115. posted by Shadlyn on

    I don’t have a good tip for re-using them, but I do have one for remembering re-usables.

    I kept them in the car, but was terrible about bringing them into the store. So…I just made a rule that if I forgot to bring them in, I had to go back to he car and GET them before checkout. I forgot TWICE, and since then I only forget them at home, NEVER in the car.

    (If your cart is full when you remember, you can usually find a cashier and ask her or him not to let them empty the cart while you run out to the car. Most are confused, but nice about it. Tell ’em you forgot your wallet, if you want to seem less weird.)

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