Green Bagging It

Here we are in 2011, and the dilemma of how to answer the dreaded “Paper or Plastic?” question at the supermarket checkout still has not been resolved satisfactorily. Whole Foods, which in 2008 phased out the use of plastic grocery bags in all of its stores, believes that the correct answer is, “Paper”. [see #1 at end of tip for link to article]

Even so, Skaidra Smith-Heisters, of the Reason Foundation makes an intelligent argument against paper because of it’s increased weight and bulk, greater consumption of water during manufacture and of fuel during transport, and increased space taken up in landfills. [see #2 at end of tip for link to article] Please note that the Reason Foundation is a conservative think tank with libertarian leanings. As such, it opposes much pro-environmental legislation in favor of free-market solutions. Among its supporters are Steve Forbes, John Stossel, Milton Friedman, and Rush Limbaugh.

Regardless of who is “right”, we’re now faced with a new dilemma — what do we do with all of those paper grocery bags we’re bound to accumulate? Here are just a few suggestions:

Re-Use Bags
Many grocery store chains will reduce the amount of your register receipt by 5 to 15 cents per grocery bag that you bring back to the store for re-use on your next shopping expedition.

Cut the bottom from the bag, slit it completely down the long side, open it up and lay flat on top of the table, plain side up. Great for absorbing greasy spills from take-out food containers.

Plant Potting Mat
Keeps potting soil off table or countertops when re-potting small plants. Just open and flatten as in the previous example. When finished, fold edges in to contain spilled soil and debris, then dispose. (Or better yet, dump dirt and re-use the bag(s) as a fire starter.)

Fire Starter
Use in fireplace or wood-burning stove. First, remove the paper handles from the bag by gently pulling them in a downward direction. They should peel away easily. Roll the bag into a tube. Tightly twist the paper handles until they are more round than flat, then wrap around the paper tube and tie the ends to hold things together. Voila! You’ve created a paper fire starter log. (Interleave, then roll two or more bags together to make thicker logs.)

Drawing Surface
Opened flat, the inside plain surface makes a great drawing and/or painting canvas for children’s art projects. Can also be used as a covering to protect surfaces from damage by paints, markers, crayons, and clay media. Tape several bags together for larger work surface.

Child’s Play Mask
Turn bag inside-out, then cut semi-circles in narrower side panels starting at open end to allow bag to rest securely over shoulders. Once bag is positioned over child’s shoulders, mark location of eyes and mouth. Remove bag, then cut holes for eyes and mouth. Decorate by drawing details or pasting cutout materials onto surface. Make hair from yarn or string. Be creative!

Food Storage “Bin”
Turn bag inside out, then roll top edges down to create a rustic container for storing potatoes, onions, or unshelled nuts. Can be decorated with paint, markers, crayons, or appliqued cut-paper shapes.

Proceed as in example above, but use as wastebasket for dry items and paper

Newspaper Storage / Recycling “Bin”
Turn bag inside out, decorate if desired. Folded newspapers fit perfectly

Package Wrap
Cut and open flat, then use as plain brown wrapping paper to cover small parcels. Seal seams and ends with packing tape.

Cat Toys
Leave an open bag (or two) on the floor for your cat to play “hide-and-seek”. Can provide anywhere from ten seconds to several hours of fun, depending upon the attention span of your cat! Remove the paper handles and tie ends to form one large or two small play-loops. (My cats enjoy these as much or more than most store-bought toys.)

Whether you re-use paper bags or not, at least recycle them. Want to avoid the issue altogether? Buy inexpensive re-usable tote bags (available at many of your favorite stores in a variety of colors and materials) and remember to bring them with you to the store. They’re of no use if you leave them at home in the closet or in the trunk of your car!

1. Article (January 23, 2008) on The New York Times website, by Andrew Martin, discusses decision by Whole Foods to eliminate plastic grocery bags:

2. Commentary (April 17, 2008) on Reason Foundation website, by Skaidra Smith-Heisters, explores the Paper vs. Plastic debate: Paper Grocery Bags Require More Energy Than Plastic Bags –

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