Washing and re-using plastic bags is a frugality meme that won’t die. Although it saves money and is an eco-friendly thing to do, it’s often derided in a “get a life!” way: You waste all that time and energy just to save a few cents?
I have a few thoughts about that. Washing takes just a few seconds. These bags cost more than a few pennies each. Finally, they’re made from petroleum or natural gas — a couple of non-renewable resources.
The Bargain Babe website recently resurrected the notion with a post called “21 reuses for freezer bags.” Some of Megan Thode’s ideas are clever but I disagree with some, such as using them to start seedlings, pipe frosting or transport used cooking oil to the trash.
To do those things would mean trashing a perfectly good Ziploc. Can’t play that way.
However, I do think that once bags spring pinhole leaks they can be used for some of her other suggestions, such as matching kids’ clothing or storing board-game pieces.
I’ve got probably seven or eight boxes of freezer bags in the basement. At some point I’ll get to them, but right now I’m washing and reusing bags that are probably on their fourth or fifth year of active duty. They last so long because we’re mostly freezing things like raspberries, rhubarb, meat and fish – no poky bones or sharp edges to puncture the plastic.
(For extra frugal credit: All were purchased on sale and with coupons.)
Late last month I threw a lot of black beans into the slow cooker and let them simmer for hours while I wrote. Drained, cooled, measured into quart-size Ziplocs and then laid flat to freeze, they are the genesis of several different potential meals yet take up practically no room in the freezer. They’re also much cheaper than the canned kind and have zero sodium. I’ll probably do a batch of pinto beans over the weekend.
Sometimes plastic IS fantastic
My point, which sort of got lost in that Rachael Ray moment, is that freezer bags can save money in two ways:
- First in the preservation of cheap or even free food – a lot of the rhubarb and some of the raspberries were gleaned, and both crops also grow in our yard without much coddling
- Second in their ability to stave off takeout – pulling a bag of pinto beans and a bag of leftover cooked chicken from the freezer means a pot of chili on the stove in no time, vs. calling out for a pizza
In honor of Earth Day, which is April 22, it would be nice to be able to say that I don’t buy plastic at all. But food must be stored, and sometimes plastic bags are best. For example, those who do batch cooking swear by flat bags of food that stack so neatly in the freezer.
Here at Casa Cheapskate we also use plastic and glass containers for food storage. Many are repurposed sour cream containers, pickle jars and the like. We prefer plastic bags for long-term storage because we can use a straw to suck out the air. But items that get used relatively quickly, such as soup stock or leftover cooked meat, is just as likely to end up in a jar or container as a bag.
Abuse less, reuse more
I’m completely aware that I can’t save the Earth all by myself. Yet I am just enough of a CHID major to believe that if each of us does one or two (or 20) things to make things easier on the planet then we will bring about change. Not overnight; maybe not even over a decade.
Businesses must also examine their practices, obviously. I could recycle aluminum my whole life long without making up for the impact of a single fast food restaurant’s relentless use-and-toss policies. Neither will 10,000 people’s purchase of secondhand cancel out clear-cutting or strip-mining.
But an attitude of “abuse less, reuse more” has to make some kind of impact. Do we really need to upgrade smartphones and tablets every six months? Would it kill us to carry our own travel mugs into the coffeehouse? Or maybe tactics like cooking at home, buying in bulk or occasionally walking to do errands could be incorporated into a lifestyle.
Clearly your mileage may vary. Sometimes our lives are so fraught that we feel one more demand/adjustment/change will send us over the edge. If that’s you, then pick your spots or maybe vow to re-examine your life in a few months.
Change doesn’t have to be onerous. It can be as simple as one washed plastic bag at a time.
Readers: Do you wash and reuse bags or is it just too embarrassing to admit? Got any other easy yet eco-friendly tips to share?