How to Recycle Old Plastic Bags

Four Methods:Reusing as BagsHelping AnimalsGeneral Reuse IdeasCrafting with Plastic Bags

Wondering what to do with those plastic grocery bags? Here are a few interesting ideas for making the most of plastic bags.

Method 1
Reusing as Bags

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    Reuse them for their initial purpose. Take them back to the grocery store for reuse in bagging your groceries. Refuse to accept new ones.
    • Return your bags back to the grocery store for recycling. Most stores have a container to take these bags back and recycle them for you.
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    • Consider no longer accepting plastic bags. The more that you continue to use the bags, the more stores assume you want them. By bringing your own bags with you, and by refusing plastic bags, you send a message that they're no longer wanted. However, be realistic. Some plastic bags prevent worse problems, such as leaking meat juices––use your common sense about minimizing their use.
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    Turn the bags into bin liners. Keep plastic bags around the house to replace trash can liners in the bathrooms, office and bedrooms. Keep them anywhere you have a small trashcan. Keep some in the laundry room to throw out pocket trash found in clothes and empty the lint filter in the dryer.
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    Store perishable food in plastic bags. Place food that perishes easily inside plastic bags before refrigerating.
    • This is especially good to do in the summer––if you have a long wait between trash pick-ups, it will keep flies out of your trash can from food decomposing in the can. Just be careful that the food isn't decomposing so much that it is producing heat and forcing your fridge to work harder, thereby defeating the recycling intent.
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    Keep a stash of bags in each vehicle to help keep the car tidy. Hang one over a seat, arm rest, or simply keep it under a seat. Empty the bags regularly but only get rid of the bags if they're really filthy; otherwise, reuse them as many times as possible.
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    Donate the bags to your local charity shop or thrift store, library or flea market sellers. The bags can be used by people who borrow books, buy items or need to bring in items. Ask first though––quite a few charity shops have stopped accepting these bags for fear of contamination or unsavory objects inside them.
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    Make use of plastic bags for traveling. Plastic bags are light and not noticeable when shoved into your suitcase or backpack. They're ideal for the following:
    • Keeping unwashed laundry separate from clean clothes in your bag.
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    • A makeshift shower cap if you don't want wet hair from showering.
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    • A ready-made garbage bag where none is available while traveling.
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    • Something to cover your shoes with if it starts raining heavily and your shoes can't get wet.
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    • Use the bags to help re-cart soggy laundry from a previous vacation home again.
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    • Something to collect and wrap souvenirs with.
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    Save your electronics from moisture when heading out of the house on a rainy day.

Method 2
Helping Animals

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    Use the bags to help animals. Plastic bags allowed to fly off into the environment harm wildlife through ingestion and entanglement. However, using bags with purpose and care can actually help animals in certain ways:
    • If you have pets, use plastic bags to clean out the litter box or scoop the poop in the yard. When you take your dog for a walk, tie a couple of bags to the leash handle so you will always have a bag available to scoop the poop.
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    • Line the bottom of your kitty-litter pans, to collect the clean litter from falling through after straining old pieces out.
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    • Donate the bags to animal shelters. They often need plastic bags for cleaning and to use when walking dogs, they'll appreciate having a few extra around. Be sure to ask first though––they'll let you know if the donation is helpful.
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Method 3
General Reuse Ideas

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    Pack things with plastic bags. Rather than purchasing the Styrofoam peanuts, many scrunched up plastic bags can be used to safely cradle objects being sent by mail or things that are being placed into storage. Wad the bags up and stuff them around items while packing.
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    Empty bagless vacuum cleaner contents into plastic bags. Tie a strong knot at the top to prevent the contents spilling out, then dispose of appropriately. If the pets or kids get into the trash (or you press down instead of taking out) you won't end up with a fine dust cloud.
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    Use plastic bags for household needs. There are many ways that you can reuse plastic bags in the home, including:
    • Use as reusable lunch bags. Ask that the bags be returned for reuse until they're tatty, as they can be washed and dried for constant reuse.
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    • Shove the bags inside of shoes to help keep the shape of the shoes while air drying.
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    • Wrap care-package trash from the baby's room into plastic bag, to be disposed of later.
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    • Line a cracked vase with a plastic bag to prevent leakage.
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    • Hang gloves, hats, scarves and other items in separate bags for easy finding in the hall cupboard.
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    • Create a disposable and cheap ice-pack bag, by placing ice in the bag and retying it shut.
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    • Hang wet bath toys in a plastic bag with a few holes punctured into it. Hang the bag by its handles over the faucet and the water in the toys will drip out, reducing the opportunity for mildew growth.
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    • Stuff bunched-up plastic bags inside anything that needs bulking out, such as curtain valances, stuffed toys, cushions, display items, etc.
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    • If you're going to have a yard sale, use the bags for people who buy multiple small items.
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Method 4
Crafting with Plastic Bags

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    Make things from plastic bags. Here are just a few ideas of the nifty things crafters have turned plastic bags into:
    • Cut into strips and knit/crochet into a stronger reusable shopping bag. These work well because strips of plastic bag have a lot of tensile strength and the knit/crochet stitch makes this even stronger. They'll last a long time and they're rainproof.

    • Knit a plastic bag wreath.

    • Make art from plastic bags.

    • Knit or crochet other items from plastic bags, such as dog collars, necklaces, belts, etc.
    • Make a belt. Get three plastic bags. Twist each bag tightly into a rope. Knot the ends of the bags together. Then braid them. Knot them at the end, and use colorful duct tape to bind the two ends. Done and ready to wear.
  2. 2
    Play with the plastic bags. Obviously, never give plastic bags to young children as the bag is a choking or suffocation hazard. For those old enough to understand what's safe when using a plastic bag, here's how to turn plastic bags into play objects:
    • If you'd like to practice your juggling skills, take three grocery bags, scrunch them into balls (use the handles to tie the ball shape in place), then juggle! Avoid windy days or you will lose them.
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    • Turn the bags into water balloons and have fun dropping them. Don't overfill or drop on people or animals though, especially if the water balloon is large.
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    • If you paint on top of a household table, spread out a bag or two on top of the table to keep the paint off the table. When you're finished, toss the bags away.
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    • Cut plastic bags into streamer strips for parties. This works best with a variety of colors, unless you're looking for a plain white or snow theme. To make the streamer as long as possible, cut from the open part on each side of the bag, not cutting the seam that joins the bag at the base.
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  • When ceasing to accept so many bags from the supermarket, grocery store or anywhere else, buy or make good quality canvas or fabric bags to replace them. In general, such bags are stronger and hold more than the flimsy plastic bags that most stores use. Using reusable bags means fewer trips from the car once you're home, and less risk of a bag breaking and spilling your groceries all over the ground. Some stores give a small discount for bringing your own bags, but the real benefit is not consuming or accumulating plastic bags.
  • Most grocery chains have recycle bins for plastic bags. Take them back to these recycle bin. The carrying case for a folding chair is excellent for compression of plastic bags that you are waiting to recycle.
  • Store plastic bags properly to avoid mess and potential hazard for small children and pets. Storage ideas include:

    • Use a plastic bag sausage or tube. Fabric bag sausages or tubes can be found at local craft or kitchen stores. These tubes have small elastic holes at the top and bottom and a loop for hanging it on the back of a door or on a hook.

    • Use an empty baby wipe container or empty tissue box - this keeps them tidy and you'll always know where to find them.
    • Use one of the bags to stuff the rest in just for storage. Hang the bag in the garage, pantry, under the kitchen sink or in the laundry room. Alternatively, wad up the first bag, and put it into the next. Wad this up, and put it into the next, and so on. This way, you can always just remove the outermost bag-layer.
    • If you want to keep them in a visible container, a decorated glass jar will hold untold numbers of compressed bags until you're ready to use or recycle. Just strip out the air from the bottom of the bag to its mouth and then fold up and press it on top of the bags.
    • Tying into small bundles and filling a "used bag" drawer with them. See How to fold a plastic bag for tips on folding the bags neatly.
    • You can use a product called LOOP-A-CAN that allows recycling of grocery bags as trash can liner or it can also be used to just secure regular liner.


  • Bags that disintegrate in light will do so fairly rapidly. Avoid reusing these or you'll end up with a flaky mess.
  • Do not let children play with bags. Store them in a safe place. They can be a choking or suffocation hazard.
  • Don't reuse plastic bags that were used to transport meat or poultry. They may contain bacteria that can be harmful.
  • Make sure there are no holes in the bags before you re-use them. If the bags have holes, double up with those without. If they are pretty torn up, just recycle them.

Things You'll Need

  • Plastic bags
  • Empty tissue/wipe boxes
  • Plastic bag tube
  • Glue and tape

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