On September 30, 2014, Governor Jerry Brown signed SB270 into law, enacting California’s 2015 ban on single-use plastic bags. The debate rages on how long it takes for plastic bags to decompose and whether plastic bags require more energy to produce than paper bags. One certainty is that shopping habits will change as the cost of approved, store-provided bags is passed to the consumer. Other states will no doubt follow California’s lead in banning single-use bags.
Stepping into the paper versus plastic debate is dangerous. While Americans preach tolerance, I find very few practitioners, especially if my position is opposite of yours. To be fair in handling this volatile topic, I’d like to present ideas from both sides of the aisle. Paper and plastic bags have uses beyond transporting purchases home from the store.
Ten uses for plastic bags
- Barf Bag
My children suffer from motion sickness. It was a disgusting but impressive feat when my three-year-old splattered the windshield from the back seat. We learned to pack a supply of plastic bags for road trips, double-bagged for good measure and lined with paper towels.
- Dipping Doggie Doo
Responsible pet owners need a sanitary method for lifting canine deposits, especially those left in the neighbor’s yard or along public walkways. Plastic bags provide the solution—stoop and scoop. Just make sure the bag has no unexpected rips.
- Packing Filler
Use plastic bags to fill the voids and pad the payload as you pack a shipping box. Unpacking will be less messy for the recipient, and he can worry about being a responsible steward of the planet by disposing of the plastic in an appropriate manner. With a little foresight you have managed to outsource the problem.
- Transporting Free Plants
Visit your favorite gardener. Remark about the beautiful plant he is growing, and share that you hope to own one someday. He will likely grab a shovel and slice you a section. Plastic bags will serve to transport your treasure. Double bag and sprinkle a little water on the dirt to keep the plant hydrated until it is installed in your garden.
- Trash Can Liners
As the trash removal specialist in my home I can state with certainty that bathroom trash is often gross. Line the trash container with a plastic bag. On trash day lift the bag, tie the handles together and dispose. Extra bags can be stored in the bottom of the can so replacements are readily available.
- Laundry Bag
On a suitcase trip there is always the question of what to do with dirty clothes. Pack several plastic bags and shove the dirty stuff inside. Now the soiled socks can be transported without stinking up the rest of the suitcase.
- Painting Help
On large paint jobs I often pause for a break. Paint brushes and rollers can be wrapped in plastic bags to prevent their drying out during lunch and the subsequent mandatory nap.
- Filler for Large Pots
Those gargantuan pots look great on the patio. Few of us own the forklift required to move them, though. Crumpled plastic bags can fill the bottom section of the pot and reduce the amount of soil needed. Consider the plant’s root depth, and adjust the size of the filler layer accordingly.
- Litter Bag
Collection and disposal of littler is preferable to sailing it out the window. Stuff a few plastic bags in the seat-back pocket of the car or in the glove box if there is space. Collect intra-car litter and dispose of it at the next fuel stop.
- Christmas Sanity
Tangled Christmas lights will turn a husband into a Grinch in seconds. Wrap light strands individually around sections of cardboard, and shove each into its own plastic bag. Next Christmas the tangles will be a ghost of Christmas past.
Ten Uses for Paper bags
- Puppets or masks
Kids love to pretend, and a stack of paper bags offers an outlet for that energy. With a little imagination Godzilla can join Frogman for an attack on the fair Princess. Lunch bag-sized puppets fit tiny hands and can lead to some winning performances.
- Book covers
Long before Facebook or texting there was the simple paper bag book cover. It was prime space for expressing thoughts, sharing latest love interests, and doodling uncomplimentary pictures of Mrs. Windbag as she conducted Algebra class. Paper bag book covers are easy to make and easy to replace when John no longer loves Sally.
- Drawing Paper
Cut the bag open, use masking tape to hold the corners, dump out the markers and crayons, and let the kids have at it. Keep a cardboard roll handy to wrap up the finished work. Add a date and maybe a brief sentence explaining when it was created. Years later those former children will hoot and howl as they unroll and rediscover their masterpieces.
- Wrapping Paper
No offense is intended to the 10,000,000 PTAs that are gearing up to send little urchins door to door hawking overpriced wrapping paper. People, make your own. Decorate it with your custom ideas. Use your creativity and express your individuality. The best part? Wrapping paper made from free paper bags can be composted.
- Drop cloth for painting
Paint droplets splattered on plastic wait for unsuspecting shoes. Hours later, the lady of the house will question, “Who tracked this blue paint all over the white carpet?” One day I will capture that guy, Not Me, and evict him from the premises. In the meantime remember that paint droplets on paper dry quickly.
- Flower bulb storage
Some bulbs have to be unplanted and archived in suitable winter quarters such as under a bed or in a closet. Let the bulbs dry after digging, and place them in a paper bag for the winter. Punch holes for air flow. Note, this method is not suggested as an alternative for relatives who must winter in warmer climates.
- Weed control
Cut open and flatten paper bags. Gently dampen them in place in the new flower bed before applying the mulch. The weeds will suffocate and over time the bags will break down. Cut a slit, and insert plants through the paper.
- Safe fire starter
Macho men use one match and a handful of small branches to start a fire, even in a howling rain storm. Alternately wad a section of paper bag and stack the branches on top in a pyramid shape. The paper will burn long enough to get things heated up but will disintegrate into ashes before anyone knows you cheated.
Peel vegetables over a flattened paper bag and wrap the entire mess to carry to the compost pile.
- Fruit First Aid
Stuff fruit that is not quite ripe into a paper bag and roll the top down. Leave the bag on the counter and check the results in a couple of days. Peaches, avocados, pears, or tomatoes will be ready to eat.
Which is better, paper or plastic?
The Church at Corinth (see I Corinthians 12) was embroiled in a big upheaval. Certain people, whose role had them in front of the others, naturally considered themselves to be higher on the Importance Scale. Others clamored to grab positions in the spotlight. Paul gently reminded his readers of each individual’s worth. The picture he presented of the group functioning as a body is worth a read. The key verse is:
But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired.
I Corinthians 12:18 NASB
Am I paper or plastic? Well, what matters is I understand I have a God-given purpose.
For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10