How can I reuse or recycle plastic carrier bags?

plastic carrier bagsI know, we all hate them with a passion. But despite taking cotton bags when we go shopping (most of the time…) and using them as bin liners, we still have about seventy-nine billion plastic bags in the house.

We have two of those bag tidy things full, another load wedged between the freezer and the wall, and then ones from clothes shops and the like in the bedroom (because they’ve yet to walk downstairs yet).

What, oh what, can we do with the accursed things?

Best Suggestions

  • Reduce: Always carry a reusable bag with you so you don’t collect any more. Either reuse existing plastic carriers (fold them into a triangle for neat & easy transportation) or stronger cotton/jute shopping bags — you can even make your own strong cotton bags from old clothes or pillowcases.
  • Reuse: Use them again and again as shopping bags to avoid collecting more! Also, use them as bin liners, keep your feet dry in leaking shoes/boots or crunched up to cushion delicate items in the post. If you’re crafty, you can turn them into plastic ribbons for crochet/knitting, make them into non-absorbent rag rugs or fuse them together to make new, stronger carriers.
  • Recycle: Most major supermarkets have plastic bag recycling bins and many local authorities collect them at the kerbside too.

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52 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle plastic carrier bags?”


  1. Judith Rhodes says:

    You can put plastic bags in the green recycling bin, in Leeds at any rate.
    Also I use them when I go on hol, to put my houseplants and outdoor tubs in. Helps retain the moisture while I’m away, but then when I get back, alas they are too mucky to use for anything else. But at least they have been used again!!

  2. bbbbbb says:

    fill with good soil and you can grow potatoes in them. hang em around yuor garden

  3. Matt Scholey says:

    You can take them to Charity Shops or Organic Shops/ Farmers Markets where they will be grateful and the bags will be reused.

  4. Fizzy says:

    Cut into strips and crochet into a rug… you can get patterns/instructions on the internet!

    • torie says:

      I’m excited to see others crochet strips of bags as well. I thought I made it up. I crochet fat strips into baskets to put outside my door for shoes and wet suits. I even wash them in my washing machine.

      • juliejustwandering says:

        will you tell me how you do this? we seem to have thousands of these laying around!

  5. Emma says:

    Tesco stores have a plastic bag recycling bin – at least the one in Shettleston does! Also to cut down on the number of trendy high store bags you accumulate when on a mad shopping spree,pop into TKMaxx first and buy one (or more) of their “Bags For Life”. They are made from jute and are absolutely huge – perfect for the above mentionned sprees!

  6. There are tons of uses for these plastic bags. Use them to carry your lunch, take yout gym clothes, etc.

  7. Fiona says:

    First off please stop collecting any more – just say NO in the shops! You’ll be amazed how much more aware many shop staff are when you say this – especially if you add with a smile that you’ve got far too many bags already. If you always carry one of your existing bags with you (takes almost zero room/weight in your bag), then you’ll be far less likely to really need to ever get another one.

    However, to actually answer your question, try these people – make sure you have a sort through your mountain first though to avoid the stuff they say they don’t want.

    http://www.polyprint.co.uk/recycling.html

    • Anonymous says:

      Fiona wrote:

      First off please stop collecting any more – just say NO in the shops! You’ll be amazed how much more aware many shop staff are when you say this – especially if you add with a smile that you’ve got far too many bags already. If you always carry one of your existing bags with you (takes almost zero room/weight in your bag), then you’ll be far less likely to really need to ever get another one.
      However, to actually answer your question, try these people – make sure you have a sort through your mountain first though to avoid the stuff they say they don’t want.
      http://www.polyprint.co.uk/recycling.html

  8. victoria finney says:

    Tear the bags into thin strips, then twist them into thread. You can use the thread to tie back plants if the plastic is dark, or for any similar purpose where a waterproof thread is neccessary. You can also knit the thread using fat knitting needles, to make a free draining, tough mesh. This is fab for clothing peg bags, but there are probably other uses for this fabric I have’nt thought up yet, like maybe trainer bags, or beach bags. To make a long thread simply tie the ends as you go.

  9. Dave says:

    Your local library always needs plastic bags, try popping down and donating some and they’ll usually be greatly recieved :)

  10. john b says:

    When putting wellies on our kids we often sandwich a plastic bag between two socks as an extra waterproof layer for when they inevitably fill said welly with water.

  11. We reuse plastic bags in the second hand bookshop where I work.
    I also always have a couple of smaller plastic bags in my coat pocket to clear up after the dog, when necessary.
    I still manage to accumulate plastic bags, even though I usually carry a cotton bag with me.

  12. Carol Graves-Morris says:

    I have used supermarket plastic bags as mini cloches for plants requiring protection on my allotment. I cut the bottom open, then tension the bag with canes or sticks. You can tie the handles together for more protection, or push the bag down as the plant becomes acclimatised. They last for about a couple of years then start to degrade into flakes. (However, slugs are also grateful for the protection!) They can also be used as weights to hold down netting, etc if they are filled with earth. They usually degrade faster then. I also use them to bring back produce from the allotment – easier than a trug or a wheelbarrow.

  13. Laura Benson says:

    We’ve discovered an interesting use which is to use them balled up to stuff boots and shoes to help them keep their shape when packing them away for storage or to take on holiday.

  14. lee says:

    at the food store i use canvas bags and what ever else doesn’t fit i put into paper bags..the paper bags i then use in my kitcheb to collect paper and plastic recycling and then the bags get recycled too. i barely have any plastic bags left and if i do get some by chance my local food store has a bin for them.

  15. i used plastic carriers bags and poke holes in for my hangnig baskets to stop the soil from falling out

  16. Gary says:

    In North Kent we can put them in our blue recycling boxes/bags, and I’ve also heard that Tesco will recycle them for you. You can re-use them instore and get Green clubcard points, or you can even give them to the driver of the Tesco.com van, if you get your shopping delivered.

    As said above though, there are loads of uses for them. I use a couple of them to keep my clothes waterproof when they’re in my rucksack (When on the motorbike), etc.

  17. Pink says:

    Cut them into half inch wide strips, join together, roll into a huge ball then knit or crochet into grocery bags that you will reuse over over again…ang you’ll get lots of compliments.

    Here’s one tutorial:

    http://www.myrecycledbags.com/2007/04/22/crochet-a-recycled-handbag-from-plastic-grocery-bags/

    • anita says:

      Hi
      more details or a pattern available please – i would love to see a bag made like this thanks anita x

  18. njtomboy says:

    Plastic Bag Crafts!

    http://www.craftzine.com/blog/archive/2007/08/plastic_bag_crafts.html

    …including one oh so haute couture dress!

  19. Jane says:

    We have been cutting into 1/2 strips and joining together and making handbags with several pockets, bath mats for when you travel, beach bags, for wet clothes and as a weed block in the garden.

  20. louisa says:

    I’ve just remembered something from my (brief) days as a professional painter/decorator – we used to wrap plastic bags around rollers overnight to save washing them out.

    We painted using the same colour for days at a time (numerous bedrooms in student houses) – the plastic bags stopped the paint on the rollers from drying out and saved us a lot of time that would have been spent washing them out.

    -louisa

  21. lianne says:

    I’m making a cloth to cover a communion table for my church out of recycled products.The background is stitched plastic carrier bags. This has produced a lovely soft effect and gives the message of making something beatiful out of something nasty.

  22. Bad Monkey says:

    Use them as bin bags for your kitchen bins, or use them as dog waste bags, or I take them to my local market stall holders who are glad of them, or you could use them scrunched up as packaging when sending breakable items in boxes.

    • NN says:

      The problem with doing that is that plastic bags invariably have holes in to prevent suffocation, and rubbish then just gets through the bottom of the bag…

  23. Emma says:

    You can take the bags that you get lugged with to your local tesco who will allways recycle them for you, could make crafts out of them like mats, clothin etc…

    -Emma

  24. t. murray says:

    Iam a student doing a visual studies ba at norwich univ collage of the arts and I am knittind hats ,scarve mittens and a jacket out of recycled plastic bags and I am getting some great results

  25. EcoMonster says:

    I turn them into pom poms to use as bows for gift wrapping. There are instructions online.
    http://ecomonster.com/?p=319

  26. 1eyed1HORNEDflyingPURPLEpeopleEATER says:

    OH OH OH make them into BRAIDED BAG JUMPROPES! these jumpropes are some of the best ive ever used and if you want to make one heres the online instructions:
    http://www.highlightskids.com/Express/Crafts/Games/C0894_jumprope.asp

    …for someone about my height 5 foot (yes short, but not done growing) i needed 9 bags, oh & remember, however many bags you use they have to be in counts of three (3,6,9,12) since its a three strand braid…
    orrr maybe someone could try a thicker braid…

  27. Dave says:

    Cut the handles and bottom seam off with sharp scissors and flip inside out so that the ink is on the inside. Then you do that for at least 4 bags and put the bags on top of each other and in between wax paper. Use an iron to melt the bags together. This creates a stronger fabric like material. Sew the what you’ve made together to make messenger bags or anything else you can make with fabric like materials.

  28. silvia says:

    hi, after trying the melting together thing, and it did not work to me, i tryied this one:

    MAKE RECYCLED XMAS CARDS (or bday cards etc)

    use very porous card paper (i used recycled one) and iron on a few layers of thin plastic bags trims.
    It is important that the plastic bags used are the thin ones as the thick ones will shrink on top and won’t melt. You’ll need to use a 100% cotton sheet between the plastic and the iron and to iron with slow moves for long; make sure you hold the plastic down with the iron for eventual shrinkage and you move around very slowly to make sure to quickly melt the plastic on the paper.
    Do it with open windows as the fumes might be strong actually.
    If the cuttings of bags are showing letters and pictures is nicer as it gives a retro look.
    Then you can fold it as a card, wrap it on fabric and iron again to give the shape.
    It looks very original!!!

  29. I have really been enjoying the creation of plastic grocery bags using plarn. Check out photos of the my upcycled reusable plarn shopping bag. I am excited to try this project with colored plarn.

    http://feliciafollum.blogspot.com/2011/01/upcycled-pastic-bags-bag.html

  30. Lee says:

    You can take a plastic store sack and use it as a liner for your canvas or cotton totes to keep the inside of the reusable bag clean longer. After they serve their purpose there, you can use them somewhere else. Perhaps, in the garden to keep weeds at bay. I don’t look upon plastic shopping bags with the hatred that so many people do. They have many, many uses. These bags can be repurposed a dozen times or more, for years, depending on how they are being reused I can honestly say, without exaggeration, that I have plastic shopping bags around my home that have been here for years, serving in various capacities. These bags aren’t evil. People just need to reuse them. Or take them back to the store and put them into the recycling bin, rather than just tossing them into the trash or worse, littering the landscape with them.

  31. diane says:

    I took the baseboards off my outer walls in a cold living/dining room and stuffed the plastic bags between the walls.
    It has cut down on the cold in the heated rooms enormously
    I figure I*ll just keep stuffing them in there until its full and start on another wall..

  32. Sarah says:

    I enjoy making fish and plastic bag dolls out of plastic bags lying round the house. But out of the two, the plastic bag doll is a lovely little ornament that you can make from old items from the home.

    1. Hold the end of the plastic bag, (handle end) and cut of the handles.
    2. fill the closed end of the bag with paper balls, cotton wool.
    3. tie up the end with the cotton wool of paper balls with a rubber band, so they don’t come out
    4. draw a face on the filled head of the doll with sharpie pen or a white board pen.
    5. Hang up of make clothes for you little plastic doll. Make an army!

  33. A friend made some American pompoms for her daughter by cutting off the handles, selotaping the bottom of the bag flat to the edge of a table, then cutting the bag into strips (from the top end to the selotaped end – but not cutting the selotape), then lift the whole thing off the table and roll the bag up so the seloptape sticks it together.

    Repeat as necessary for bigger pompoms. Her daughter loved them, especially as my friend used only pink and white carrier bags!

  34. Jaded DreamKing says:

    I use them instead of plastic wrap or tin foil to cover my ‘left-overs’. I have saved so much money that way. I just lay the bag sideways and insert the plate of food. I twist the excess and fold it under the plate. It doesn’t sit exactly flat but works. If I really need it to stack flat, I do tie the handles together, but not tightly. I try to examine bags for holes and can sometimes get away with keeping the holes on the bottom of the plate.
    I’m a little hesitant to keep the bag on when I reheat the food in the microwave, but usually I don’t have a problem since the plastic is not getting superheated, the food is. The most heat that the bag takes is from the steam. With steam, the bag also inflates and stays off the food until the end of the microwave cooking time.
    I usually have a supply that is equal to the amount of food that I buy. Sometimes I do run out of bags since the bags get lots of holes.
    After the bags are ‘soiled with food’, I toss them in with the recycling and hope that they get sorted out or mixed in with the other plastics.
    This is probably bad in so many ways, but I prefer it to using tons of plastic ‘syran’ wrap. I guess the better solution would be to quit getting/using the bags and just use aluminum foil, but then again, can’t use in the microwave and doesn’t steam cook my food.
    Anyways, that’s what I do.
    I’ve been told by a friend that the grocery store will take them off your hands, but probably just trashes them. Any truth to that ?

    • Medeea says:

      You need to wash them before tossing them with the recyclables. Or else you contaminate the recycling stream.

      One way to cut down the use of plastic wrap or aluminum foil is to use casseroles with lids. There are even glass containers with lids that can be microwaved.

    • Fay says:

      I guess you wash the bags before using them with food? I would be afraid to put them into the microwave for fear of chemicals leaching into the food. I no longer use plastic in the microwave.

      Instead, I purchased glass (Pyrex) bowls with glass lids. I cook in them and store leftovers in them. I rarely use/buy plastic wrap anymore. You can find these bowls on Amazon and on Ebay and some kitchen stores still sell them. (The newer ones have plastic lids.)

      If you can’t find these bowls or don’t want to make the investment, you can heat your leftovers in a glass bowl in the microwave and cover the bowl with a plate or saucer.

      As for tossing the used bags into the recycling bin, if you don’t wash them first, they will contaminate the whole batch.

      I crocheted a market bag out of the tons of store bags that I had and leave it in the car so that I will always have it with me when I go shopping. The instructions for making yarn (called “plarn”) and for crocheting bags, rugs and baskets with it can be found if you do a web search.

  35. duddu says:

    When I go grocery, I use my cotton bag. Even If I need to buy veggies, I don’t use plastic for veggies. So when I get there I take a trolley with a small chest I bring from home, so I put all my veggies in. And when I weight them, I put the stiker around the trolley. But if I have to buy potatoes I use the plastic bags that I have at home. And I reuse those many times, I just remove the sticker and washe them.

  36. Michal Diane Cottrill says:

    Those darn plastic bags, yes even the ones that are supposed to be made partly of vegetable oil are still a menace to Mother Earth. Walmart has bins where you can throw your plastic bags in but then people who are having yard and garage sales pick them up and put their sale items in them for their customers. Then more than likely the plastic bags end up in the garbage. Walmart doesn’t fool me. Carry the cloth or canvas reusable bags when you go shopping.

  37. Dean says:

    At my school in art class the kids made baskets out of old plastic bags. They turned out excellent!
    Go to greendale.k12.wi.us/ and go to Greendale Middle School to find out more.

  38. shana says:

    Thank you so much for the share, I love to up-cycle plastic bags, my next venture is use them as business cards, but my iron is currently went ka-put so no bag fusing for me right now:(
    Wonderful blog I love it:)

  39. Laura G says:

    http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/40990

    Petition to the government to help reduce plastic bag waste in landfills. Please sign. My friend is very passionate about seeing this go all the way.

    Thank you.

  40. Kim says:

    I have made outdoor pillows by cutting off the handles of the bag then stuff it with other bags and seal it with a bag sealer( I found a cheap one @ Goodwill). I than used a shower curtain I never used anymore and cut around the plastic pillow and left a 5/8″ seam. I sewed 3 sides around and kept 1 opening for the pillow. Then I stuffed the pillow in it and sewed up the opening. I was able to sew many pillows from this shower curtain and saved alot of money!

  41. Denise says:

    If you just want to recycle them, take them to Walmart, they have a collevtion bin.


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