Plastic pollution is a serious problem. And, while many people are investing in reusable products with an eye to becoming zero-waste, cutting back on how much new plastic you buy is a great first step to reducing your plastic dependency. Here are a few thrifty ways to re-use the plastic you already have.
As freezer bags
If you already buy frozen fruits and veggies that come in resealable bags, there’s no point to buying new freezer bags. Just wash out the frozen produce bags and re-use them. (Big 2-kg bags like the one above are especially handy, and can fit a whole loaf of bread.) You might not be able to see inside, but with a little bit of labeling, those bags can go a long way.
As garbage bags
It’s pretty common to use larger plastic grocery bags to take out garbage, but there are still so many other unavoidable plastic bags that inevitably pop up. For example, in eastern Canada, the litre-sized bags used for milk aren’t recyclable everywhere, and most of them will inevitably end up in a landfill. Don’t overlook those—use plastic bread bags, milk bags, or those flimsy produce bags (which are also sometimes difficult to recycle) for anything from scooping up dog poo to lining compost bins.
For winter sowing seeds
Winter sowing, an easy, no-fuss method to start seeds, makes it possible to swing into spring a little early.Winter sowing upcycles plastic containers like water jugs, salad clamshells, or pop bottles into mini greenhouses that allow seeds to germinate outside when the conditions are right. Whether you’re into flowers or veg, winter sowing can give you seedlings with so little effort even the most neglectful plant parent can manage. Here’s more on how to get started with winter sowing.
To guard against squirrels
You can use plastic produce containers to protect your growing produce from squirrels and other interlopers. Close the containers around tomatoes—you may need to notch it to fit the vine. The holes will allow for drainage and air circulation, and the containers can be easily removed when you want to eat your crop.
As colanders and food containers
Unless you have the means to shell out for local berries in paper baskets, you’ll probably wind up with lots of plastic clamshells. Give them a second job by washing your fruit in them or using them to carry easily bruised fruit like peaches for portable snacks or picnics.
As bag clips and twist ties
In Halifax, Calgary, and Toronto’s waste systems, bread tags are supposed to go directly into the garbage. So, if you don’t own bag clips already, it makes more sense to reuse these than go out of your way to buy new ones. Here’s another 15 ways to re-use bread tags, ranging from the clever—using them to mark the end of tape rolls—to the, uh…optimistic (bread-clip guitar picks, anyone?).
To pack a picnic
Wash out a finished salad dressing bottle, make your own salad dressing, and refill the bottle (most bottles are Pet, or polyethylene terephthalate, which is safer to reuse than some other plastics). This works for glass jars and bottles too—they make ideal, mess-free ways to transport hummus, dressing or other dips.
Immigrants are truly the pioneer ecofriendly community because you’d never open one of these in your fridge and find that it actually contained yogurt or cream puffs. pic.twitter.com/b8Wixq7LOF
— Liana Aghajanian (@LianaAgh) June 20, 2019
As food storage
Those yogurt tubs and margarine containers won’t work as a microwaveable lunch container, but you can still use them to keep your kitchen tidy. Pop in various bulk foods to stack on the counter or use them to refrigerate leftovers or to bring them to work for lunch (just pour food into a bowl to microwave). If you’re uncomfortable storing food in plastic, they’re great for keeping loose household items too, like batteries.
Originally published in 2019; updated in 2022.