Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Thoughts from The Tightwad Gazette: Washing out Plastic Bags

This is the sort of issue that the frugal community takes seriously: do you or do you not wash out your Ziploc bags??

As I mentioned in my review, Mrs. Dacyczyn wrote an entire article in the Tightwad Gazette about washing out plastic baggies. She talks about the proper way to wash and dry them (inside out) and even how to continue using them once they start to fall apart!

I admit it: I don't wash out Ziploc bags. To be perfectly honest, I guess it's always been one of those (rational or irrational) "ew, yuck" items to me. However, like many frugal practices that at first seemed strange, my sympathies with the idea have grown.

After all, the regular price for a 30 count box of gallon Ziploc bags is close to $4 in my area! With all the freezing of homemade foods that I do and with making my husband's lunches every day, it is easy to go through bags quickly. Granted, it is cheaper to go through plastic bags than to buy frozen foods or for my husband to buy his lunch, but the cost of the bags definitely raises the prices of making things homemade.

Ms. Dacyczyn figured out that it "paid" her $30/hour to wash out plastic bags, but to me that seems a slightly strange way to figure out savings. I mean, who spends an hour washing out bags?! The way I think of it, if I use one fewer box of plastic bags per month, I could save $48 a year. That is definitely not bad.

One concern that occurred to me about washing plastic bags is about its safety, considering all the recent news about dangerous chemicals in plastics. So I read this post with interest, which seems to say that it is okay to wash out Ziploc-type bags. (Thanks, Cheap Like Me) Of course, as both this post and Mrs. Dacyczyn mention, never reuse bags that were used for meat or cheese. Better safe than sorry!

Currently what I do try to do (as a commenter on my original post mentioned) is to reuse bags for the same item. For instance, I keep my flour and sugar in gallon Ziploc bags, and I try to keep using the same one for new packages of the item, until the bag starts to tear. I also reuse the bags in which I keep my homemade bread in the freezer. I just leave them in the freezer until I fill them again, which is usually within a couple of days. Even in my husband's lunches, I refill a sandwich size bag with the same food every day for about a week, as long as it is a dry good, like potato chips.

I also try to use washable, reusable containers rather than plastic bags whenever I can. The main advantage of plastic bags is that they save space, but when that is not an issue I go for the reusable container. I get a lot of the Ziploc plastic containers from buying my husband's lunch meat, so it's not like I've had to invest a lot of money in containers. I am in the market for a bigger, better lunch bag for Michael though. If I found a big enough one, perhaps with containers made to fit, I could really cut down on my plastic bag usage. I think the small investment would pay off pretty quickly.

So for right now, while I don't really wash out my plastic bag, I am definitely trying to be more mindful about using them. How about you? What's your plastic bag position?


  1. I wash out plastic bags when I have to. Usually I make my husband do it, since it was his idea in the first place.

    One comment I would like to make is that the effort washing the bags to reuse is very much proportional to the quality of the bag. Sometimes the store brand is much weaker plastic with a weaker seal and it will fall apart quickly no matter if you reuse it or not. The nicer, double seal bags can be reused many more times and are worth the washing, as much as I hate doing it.

  2. I don't wash plastic bags either, at least not yet. I don't really see a reason to because we don't use that many. I freeze meats and leftovers in plastic containers. And I use containers to store stuff in the fridge as well. Since I only use a 4 or 5 bags a week on average, I don't have a need to do this, but I can see where people would want to. I'd still worry about the sanitary conditions though.

  3. Liz Cozad IndellicateApril 2, 2009 at 11:46 AM

    I am lazy enough to just run them through the dishwasher with my dishes (I figure this takes care of the sanitation issues) and then drape them over my dishrack to dry them. My husband takes lunch to work everyday, plus we use them in the fridge some days, and I used to bring lunch to work (I eat free at work now). Since we married (almost 6 years ago!) we've gone through 1.5 boxes of baggies (on the second half of the second box), using about 50 baggies/month. I estimate we've saved $150 at least, so when my mom makes fun of us for being a doctor/investor couple who washes baggies I point this out!


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