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On Washing Plastic Bags

On Washing Plastic Bags

So, I save plastic bags and re-use them. Which means that sometimes I have to wash them, and then when there are a lot of bags, I have to hang them out to dry.

While hanging plastic bags on the line, I repeat to myself “I am a crazy bag lady. This is insane behavior.”

It helps to laugh at yourself sometimes.

Apparently, the “this is ridiculous but I feel I must” attitude toward laundering baggies is universal. Recently, a Mother Jones reader wondered Is Washing Out Sandwich Baggies a Waste of Time? In her answer, blogger Kiera Jones even goes so far as to calculate the water requirements of washing a bag vs. buying a new one:

One study (PDF) showed that 58 gallons of water were required to produce 1500 plastic grocery bags—about .04 gallons of water per bag. Let’s say it takes you five seconds to wash out a baggie. Since most kitchen faucets flow at about two gallons per minute, that’s roughly .17 gallons of water per washing, or four times the amount required to make a new plastic bag.

Whee! Washing bags is bad! I’m freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee–

But despite the water cost, the other benefits of reusing baggies—savings on raw materials, emissions from shipping, and landfill space—make washing worthwhile, says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When plastic bags are reused, fewer plastic bags need to be produced,” writes Hoover. “The production of plastic bags uses energy, water, and in most cases a non-renewable resource (fossil fuel-derived); reusing bags, even when you use water to wash them out, saves resources overall.”

ARGH. There is only small comfort in conserving the resources required to make a Ziploc bag, put it in a box, put that box on a pallet, wrap the pallet in plastic, ship it across an ocean, transport it across a continent, unpack it, place it on a shelf, and shine fluorescent light on it until I am ready to buy it.

For now, my bags go on the line. I am a crazy person, but I have my reasons.


  • Great post! I often get a little bogged down by trying to assess the path of least wastefulness in terms of using resources. I think it is awesome to reuse plastic bags. I remember on Maui, such a beautiful tropical paradise, and then there on the leeward side of the landfill was a large tree completely covered in plastic bags blowing off the landfill before they could be buried.

    I realized that the tree was most likely only catching a small percentage of the bags that take flight. Years later I heard about the North Pacific Central Gyre and the ocean of plastic there choking the life out of the Ocean itself.

    Me, I like re-using plastic bags for doggie doo bags and trash bags for small trash cans. I also like to use the reusable totes for food instead of sandwich bags. Check out these are awesome and there are other types and brands.

    It was weird when I caught myself not using one of our many reusable shopping bags in order to get a plastic shopping bag from the store so that my supply of dog doo bags wouldn’t run out – DOH! I need to look into corn starch dog poo bags. Another to-do!

  • i always reuse my zip locks! you can wash them the same way you *should* wash your dishes to reduce water use:
    1. light spray of water to wet dishes and sponge or rag
    2. turn off water
    3. Soap up dishes/bags
    4. turn water on lightly and rinse.

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