October 2, 2023

Plastic bags: Hero or villain? Although they serve some purposes well, people increasingly view plastic bags as unnecessary evils. I tend toward the “evils” view and I use as few as possible. I haven’t bought a trash bag in over ten years, maybe more. Think of the retirement dollars you will save by never buying a trash bag again! Our weekly trash, for two people, fits into one grocery store plastic bag most of the time. I have a stash of plastic grocery bags that will last us for years, saved from the past, when I figured I would find a use for them some day. It simply makes no sense to pay money for bags to hold something that is being thrown away!

We don’t ask for either plastic or paper bags at the grocery (or drug or discount) store. In both our cars, we have reusable bags that we carry into stores. Plastic bags seem to accumulate, nonetheless. We try to avoid accepting a bag anytime, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. The tote bags used for groceries are too grubby to take into clothing stores, and some items are too large for the tote bags, especially at gift-giving times. The bigger bags we get then are used for extra large items that must go into the trash, such as a broken coffee maker or discards from the garage or workroom.

Dry cleaner bags accumulate, as well, even as we retire on the cheap and wear fewer professional clothes. You can use these giant bags to cover out-of-season clothing, as well as to cover luggage, especially if you store your luggage in the basement, attic, garage, or under a stairway. I recently donated about 25 dry cleaner bags to a charity organization that was having a sale of used prom/evening dresses. The bags were used for gown storage, as well as for transporting the dresses home by their new owners.

Dry cleaning bags can be split and used as drop cloths when you paint small items. One unusual purpose that came up was surprising. We purchased a new toaster oven, which came packed in a box with foam braces around it. We flattened the box for recycling, but still had to deal with all the foam pieces. Because they weighed next to nothing, a dry cleaning bag was strong enough to hold them for trash day, and they all fit into one giant bag.

Okay, you ask, do I purchase any kind of plastic bags? I buy zip-top freezer bags in quart, gallon, and 2-gallon sizes. The 2-gallon size is used to pack our clothes when we travel. Much airline luggage is now searched, and I feel much better if I know no one will be pawing through my underwear. Packing outfits together makes dressing easier when we get to our destination. One pair of slacks or shorts plus two t-shirts will usually fit into one bag. I bought two boxes of these bags a few years ago and will probably never have to buy any more.

The quart and gallon sizes of bags are used in the kitchen for conventional food storage purposes. After they are used, I wash and reuse them. That’s a good use of time in thrifty retirement. A couple drops of dish liquid and some warm water sloshed around in a bag do a dandy job of cleaning it up. I dry them over the handles sticking out of my knife block.

My freezer holds many of these bags, each containing meal-sized portions. When I buy fish or meat, I divide it into as much as we will eat at one meal and freeze it that way. It stays fresher and has to be thawed only once. When produce, such as berries, is on sale in season, I buy a few extra pints and freeze them for when prices are double or triple. When I cook a turkey breast, I portion the leftovers into bags labeled for sandwiches, casseroles, or soups. Meal making is so much simpler when I can pull out exactly the right amount of turkey for a recipe.

Take a look at your use of plastic bags and figure out how you can reduce the number you use. If you don’t already have permanent tote bags for shopping, buy some. Recycle more of your trash rather than stuffing it in a trash bag. Flatten bulky items so they don’t take up so much room in your trash bag. Don’t buy larger bags than you need and then fill each one only half full. That’s like tossing a handful of change into the trash each time. Buy smaller bags to begin with–or none at all–and save some money: retire on the cheap.

One last tip: Recycle as many plastic bags as you can. If your morning paper comes in a plastic bag, recycle that with your grocery bags at your local store or discount center. Most clean plastic bags can be recycled, including bread bags (dump out the crumbs) and the bags in which some magazines are mailed. michael kors bags on sale

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