DIY Freezer Bags

We never buy freezer bags and I’m on a mission to help people see that they’re entirely unnecessary. In the category of plastic bags in general, please don’t ever buy them!

Most of our freezing is done in glass jars. Roasted pumpkin, for example, goes into a large mouth glass jar with a few inches left at the top to account for expanding liquid when it freezes.

But what about things that really don’t need to be put in jars, like berries and bananas and pre-made burritos? Enter the DIY freezer bag. I’m feeling sheepish even writing about this, because I know most of my friends already do this. If you’re going to freeze your goodies for more than a month, be sure to use a very sturdy bag. Simply reuse another thick bag!

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We get frozen cassava tortillas, for example, and frozen berries when we run out of our own, and simply save those self-sealing bags to reuse as freezer bags for our own food.

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A DIY Freezer bag, Ahem, is Just a Reused Freezer Bag.

And, if you run out of those, double up on regular self-sealing bags that you’ve saved. By using two, you’ll extend the freeze-life of your perishables. Simple! If you don’t have ziploc-style bags, just ask for them in your local Buy Nothing group. People will gladly share the ones they typically throw away and you’ll never have to buy those bags again.


Don’t Buy Freezer Bags. Just Double Up on Your Reusable Self-Sealing Bags.

How To Recycle Plastic Bags

Let’s talk polyethylene, or plastic bags. They’re stretchable plastic bags, or film, that are #2 or #4 plastics. Amazingly, most people don’t recycle them, but you can. These things just never go away, so doing your best to not acquire them in the first place is a tall order, but well worth it. And then, reusing them as much as you can until you have to recycle them is your best course of action.

Most supermarkets have a recycle bin where you can take your polyethylene or plastic bags. The most common polyethylene bags are plastic bags that you get at the grocery store, but there are many more items that you might otherwise throw away that can be recycled in polyethylene recycling. Let’s review them in a simple list, below.

When you take your bags to get recycled, simply stuff the rest of the polyethylene from your life into that bag to get recycled, too. But please remember: Recycling plastic bags is not a closed-loop system. Best to think about ways to avoid it altogether.

Ok, Here’s the List of Plastic Bags/Film That Can Go In Your Plastic Bag Recycling Bin

Grocery Bags: On our island, we’re lucky these things have been banned. So, they’re few and far between.

Bread Bags: Some bread comes in polyethylene. Be sure to recycle them when you’re done reusing them. And if you want to reduce this plastic altogether, try my fail-proof bread recipe. It’s a staple in our home.

Air Bags for Shipping and Bubblewrap: Definitely reuse these, or offer them up on your local Buy Nothing group. People and businesses who ship items often are always happy to take them off your hands.


Ziploc Bags: If you use resealable bags that have those zipperlike locks on them, just rip that hard block off of your bag and recycle the bag. I’m proud to say I haven’t bought resealable bags in years because I clean, dry, and reuse what I have.

Garment Bags: Man, that’s a lot of polyethylene. Maybe your dry cleaner will take them back if you keep them clean.

Mail Order Clothing Bags: My husband works for a clothing company and we get samples from them every week. They all come in polyethylene bags. Bothers me.


Beverage Shrink Wrap: These are usually clean and can just be thrown right into recycling. This excessive packaging is disturbing.


Newspaper Bags: Digital subscriptions are looking a lot more eco-friendly these days.

Magazine Covers: Be sure to remove the paper address label and recycle that paper label, or throw it in your compost.

Frozen Food Bags: It’s super important that you wash and dry these bags so there’s no food residue inside.


Cereal Box Liners: According to this website, you can recycle them.

Toilet Paper Roll Packaging: This is the one we can’t seem to avoid. I don’t like buying individually-paper-wrapped toilet paper rolls.

Paper Towel Packaging: Or, just skip them altogether.

Individual Kleenex Tissue Wrap: I found this in the woods on a hike. Using a handkerchief can go a long way toward reducing these kinds of plastics.


Produce Bags: I reuse mine, taking them back to the store, and no one seems to care.

Plastic Shipping Envelopes: Just remove the sticky label. We reuse these, too.


Trash Bags: These have to be clean and dry.

Wood Chip Plastic Baling: We used to use wood chips as bedding for our chickens (but now we use shredded paper.) This stuff is polyethylene! If you make sure it’s clean and dry, it can be recycled.

Little Hardware Bags For Nuts, Bolts, Screws, Etc: These little bags are what the hardware store provides for you when you buy bits of hardware in bulk.


Furniture Wrap: This is film, and it should be recycled.


What can’t be recycled? My rule of thumb is, if you can stretch your thumb through it, it’s polyethylene. But don’t include Saran Wrap/cling wrap. Apparently, that’s a different plastic (until recently, it was PVC.) If your plastic item crinkles, it’s not recyclable and you’ll have to throw it away. The risk of putting the wrong plastic into your recycling is that the recycler will reject the entire recycling container-full of bags. So, be sure you’re sending the right stuff to get recycled.

I’m a big believer in every office and classroom having a polyethylene bag recycling area, so long as a volunteer will take it to the supermarket for recycling every week or so. Imagine the impact you could have by doing this? It would reduce the waste-to-landfill by a lot, and save the school and office a bundle in solid waste pickup fees.

What can you add to my list?


10 Things You Never Need to Buy

We got our inspiration for this post by reading Suburban Pioneers’ list of 10 common products you never need to buy, so we thought we’d spread the wealth and add to their list. So, this is really about 20 things you never have to buy. Do read their list first.

If we all compiled lists of 10 “Never Buy” items complete with explanation, we’d live in a utopian circular economy, my dream economy.  After reading our list, then compile your own and send it along in the comments below. I actually already have a list of 100 items, but I’m going to work up to it, so I don’t overwhelm you.

So, here goes: 10 common items you should never have to buy —

1) Paper towels (Um, use cloth ones.)

2) Hair ties (look in every parking lot and side walk. I’m serious.)

Hair Ties and Hair Clips Recovered From the Parking Lots and Sidewalks of the World. Just wash them. Photo © LIesl Clark

3) Pens (Look in every parking lot and side walk. I can’t tell you how many hundreds of pens I’ve found in public places.)

Pens Recovered on Puget Sound Beaches

4) Ribbons (Look on every shoreline.)

Ribbon Found on Our Beaches (including the spool), Photo © Liesl Clark

5) Styrofoam Packing Peanuts or bubble wrap (just ask on your local Buy Nothing group.)

6) Ziploc bags (wash them.)

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

7) Plastic children’s toys (just ask any parent for them, they’ll gladly give you a box or 3.)

These Plastic Toys Were Being Thrown Away. Photo © Rebecca Rockefeller

Oh, and if the parents in your neighborhood want to hang on to all that plastic, just make your own toys. Here are a few (hundred) ideas for toys you can make from stuff in your home to get you started:

Click through for innovative ideas for making your own toys or reusing them at Trash Backwards

8) Books (use your library!)

9) Plastic straws (use your lips.)

plastic straws recovered from Point No Point and Schel-Chelb Estuary, WA, photo by Liesl Clark

10) Plastic cigarette lighters (use matches, especially from matchbooks you collect from bars and restaurants.)

Lighters Recovered from Puget Sound Beaches

OK, so now it’s your turn. What’s on your list?

Why I Never Buy Trash Bags

A friend of mine recently asked me what to do when she had something stinky in her trash, like meat packaging. She often has to empty her smelly trash and waste a whole plastic trash bag because her bag is only half full.

I responded, a bit sheepishly, telling her to just skip using bin liners/trash bags altogether. We haven’t used or bought trash bags in years. What’s the point of using them if your trash is headed to a landfill anyway? Why send it all wrapped up in yet another piece of plastic that won’t ever disappear from the planet?


Here’s what’s in our trash bin, just outside the kitchen. 1 family’s solid waste for a week. The Magic Markers are about 10 years old, but they’ve finally bit the dust. 

We generate very little trash and since we compost all of our organics, our solid waste is truly solid and clean dry waste. It’s mostly made up of plastic packaging for a few things our kids just love, tortilla chips, the occasional clamshell strawberry holder, pens, plastic bottle caps. It all goes into our trash bin that’s in our laundry room, away from our everyday lives because when we throw things away, very occasionally, we truly want the children to work hard to throw it “away,” whereas the compost and recycling is all in the kitchen.


Where we throw things “away.” It’s around the corner, trash bag-free! We can remove the black plastic circular bin and wash it. Looks like it needs a good wash, ahem. 

We fill a large trash can about once every 3-6 months. Neither does our kitchen bin need a tall trash bag, but we also don’t line our trash can with a plastic bag either. The clean dry waste just gets packed into the can and it’s taken to our transfer station when it gets full. Why pay for weekly pickup when you only generate a handful of plastic each week? I’m amazed, always, to see that it’s 100% plastic in there, as our textiles, shoes, organics, metal, wine corks, and batteries, which make up the rest of our trash, are all recycled.


My friend, Lissa, could throw her old styrofoam meat trays and attendant plastic packaging in her freezer until she accumulates enough trash to fill her trash can. Then, she can dispose of her trays, stink-free. She could also take a container to her favorite store where she buys meat and ask the butcher to put the meat right in there for her. No need for the store’s packaging. I’ve done it a few times here on Bainbridge Island at our local store, with no problem. But we don’t eat meat very often any more, if at all.


I talked to a local garbage worker once about whether they cared if the trash was all in plastic trash bags or not. He said it didn’t make a bit of a difference to them, because they throw the trash into the maws of the truck and a crusher then smashes it down inside the truck. The filled plastic bags often break open anyway, with the help of the crusher.

So, think about going plastic-trash-bag-free. It’s yet another form of plastic you can easily eliminate from your shopping list and garbage can. Wash your trash can out every so often. In Europe, most people I know don’t use a bin liner. It’s time we took heed and followed suit, to reduce our plastic footprint.

Are you willing to give it a try and let your waste get all naked and go trash-bag-free?



My Pet Peeve About Pet Poop

Warning: The contents of this blog post might be disturbing, if you don’t like thinking about, or looking at, s**t.

Imagine hiking along a pristine trail in the Pacific Northwest with your dog. It’s a perfect spot with majestic trees, spring birds singing their first songs of spring. But your eye is caught by not one, but four or five little wads of plastic bags, placed carefully along the trail, loaded with a hiker’s canine crap. The numbers of plastic bags filled these days with dog waste on the trail can be quite shocking. Are pet owners intending to leave these plastic methane bombs there for me to pick up? Or, are they planning to come back one day to gather up the not-so-hermetically-sealed pathogen-filled goodies?  I believe they think they’re doing the environment a favor by just bagging them up in plastic, assuming they’ve done their service to the planet, thinking, “No methane escaping today!”


Which is worse? This plastic bag or what’s inside? Well, now both are there to stay, on the trail. And the methane’s out of the bag. Sailor doesn’t know what to make of it.

I’m not going to get into the reasons why dog owners are bagging Fido’s fecal stuff. Suffice it to say, tail-wagger’s turds are one of the biggest contributors to water pollution in urban and suburban settings. We live on an island where we’re surrounded by Puget Sound. Everything ends up in our waters, given our torrential rains. So, doggie’s doodoo left in the rain can be considered the next nutrient to enter the Sound. But there’s definitely nothing nutritious about the stuff.


This isn’t Sailor’s poop. Just another example of what’s found trailside on our island paths. Trowel anyone? This might be the most environmentally-sound means of pet waste disposal.

We use a Bokashi Pet Waste Composter for our cat’s waste, and since our dog mostly poops in one spot on our property, we’re doing our best to bring it inside and flush it down the toilet. He eats no meat, mostly our veggie meals, and a few bites of the cat’s dry food each day. The EPA says flushing is the most environmentally-sound thing we can do with Rover’s #2, considering we live just feet from Puget Sound. But putting your dog’s fecal matter into a plastic bag and leaving it on the trail to stay forever is, by my calculations, two counts of littering.


One of my favorite authors, Susan Freikel, who wrote Plastic: A Toxic Love Story, summarizes the situation perfectly in a recent article for LiveScience:

Dogs can harbor lots of viruses, bacteria and parasites — including harmful pathogens like e coli, giardia and salmonella. (A single gram contains an estimated 23 million bacteria.) Studies have traced 20 to 30 percent of the bacteria in water samples from urban watersheds to dog waste. Just two to three days of waste from 100 dogs can contribute enough bacteria, nitrogenand phosphorous to close 20 miles of a bay-watershed to swimmingand shellfishing, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.It also can get into the air we breathe: a recent study of air samples in Cleveland, Ohio, and Detroit, Mich., found that 10 to 50 percent of the bacteria came from dog poop.

I understand the reasoning behind bagging your pet’s waste. But (wait for it) I’ve seen hundreds of pet waste bags, still filled with said waste, washed up on beaches along our shorelines. These floaters stay extra-buoyant in their plastic packaging. It’s one kind of plastic waste we’ve had to leave out there on the beaches as we can’t bring ourselves to pick it up. I have visions of whales and sea lions ingesting the knotted bags of eco-dog-love left behind by doo-gooders of Puget Sound.

Is there a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of our pet’s waste? According to this Huffington Post article, Paul Canella’s Poop Bags are biodegradable. But, those presumably will just go into the landfill, with the same toxins and microbes deemed unhealthy to humans leaching into our watersheds. Some scientists suggest that burying your dog’s waste, as you would your own, might be the best method for disposal along the trail. One foot deep, below the runoff zone, is safe. Are you willing to start digging in your public park? Probably not.

We have a bit of a merde mess in our over-poopulated urban settings, but in a few places, like Portland and Boulder, enterprising people have developed pet waste processing companies that compost your four-legged friend’s feces. It turns out hot commercial composters could actually use Fido’s fuel. One dog-friendly park, in Gilbert, AZ, lets you toss your turds into a bin that turns it into a flame for a lantern in the park while you let your dog have some off-leash fun.


Yet another plastic-encapsulated trailside turd.

The plastic bagging of dog droppings just isn’t cutting it. We’re making a bigger mess of things in our wild places, watersheds, and maritime environments. There are now flushable bags made for caca collection, and this might be one of the easiest and eco-aware options out there.


Vegetarian waste left behind by horses is of no concern.

Until we have anaerobic pet waste composters in each city, we’ll have to settle for the lesser evils available to us for disposing of it. And the next time I come across plastic-sealed scat, I have a pocketful of hand-written notes that I plan to leave behind, scribbled on paper, to accompany the abandoned excrement: “Did you forget this? This PPOO (plastic poo) needs a PPU (prompt pickup) by you.”


DIY Plastic Bag Dryer

Here’s an admission: We wash and dry all of our used plastic bags and then reuse them. Since the polyethylene in our bags will still be here in 2516, it’s hard for me to think of these things as a single-use product. Since plastic bags will still be here, but in tiny micro-pieces out in our environment, in 500 years, why not use them as long as we can? With a little water and soap, they’re ridiculously easy to clean. The drying of plastic bags just takes some thought.

My mother uses her refrigerator magnets and then sticks her bags to her fridge for drying. I think it makes her fridge look like the bag monsters we see at environmental events. Other folks just stick them onto the water faucet for drying, or on a nearby plant (the bag serves to then water the plant, yo!)

Well, I like to have a little drying station right near the sink where the bags can be hung easily. To that end, my sister gave me a wooden Gaiam plastic bag dryer a few years ago and this thing is now an everyday-used staple in our kitchen.

Gaiam Bag Dryer, Photo © Liesl Clark

Gaiam Bag Dryer on My Sill © Liesl Clark

But here’s the thing: You can make your own from items you have in your house right now. Take a toothbrush holder (or if you don’t have one of those, just use a mason jar) and stuff some pebbles into it. Then poke chopsticks through the toothbrush holder holes and lodge them into the pebbles to set them firmly apart. If you’re using a mason jar, drill some chopstick-width holes into the top and insert chopsticks. Place your bag-holder by your sink and wash, hang, and reuse your plastic  bags with glee!


DIY Bag Dryer © Liesl Clark

I’ve used a pretty vase, too, for this purpose as well, making sure I have a method for firmly setting the chopsticks in place. If you have some pretty sticks to use, like curly willow, rather than chopsticks, you can make an artistic-looking bag dryer for your sink that looks beautiful at all times. Jewelry trees are also cool to use. Have fun with it, because the end game is to create a space for drying plastic bags, like Ziplocs, so you never have to buy them again. We haven’t bought any in about 10 years and although we mostly use glass these days, the reusable bags come in handy for all kinds of projects the kids have at school or at home for holding things.

I posted a link to this article on my Facebook page and, what do you know, so many of my friends are willing to admit they, too, wash their plastic bags and dry them. There were so many different ways of drying the bags, I had to share them here. Check this out:

Anahata: I use, wash, dry and reuse. To dry I just slip half of a clean dishtowel into the bag and fold the other half over the outside. Then, I roll it up and the majority of the surface moisture is absorbed in the towel.

David: Liesl, bit mundane – decline plastic bags when offered but stuff used bags into my back pocket for picking up dog shit later [not sure about the energy cost to me or the planet of washing and drying] the trash hereabouts is incinerated and turned into heat and, as far as I know, toxin-free compost.

Jake: We’ve been doing this for years – not a problem at all! Yes, our cleanliness police love to think it’s dangerous, but like you said, no different than washing and reusing a pan or a plate. We wash lightly – depending on what was in it – sometimes just a rinse, and then hang on a wooden drier like in your pic. We also reuse other bags from food items, so rarely if ever need to buy plastic bags, etc. Frighteningly, I still have a tube of Saran wrap in our drawer from college – it’s now become a bit of a pride point. Thanks for sharing and encouraging us all to be a bit more friendly to the planet, and to ourselves!…Such simple things that make a big difference if everyone does it!

Melissa: I have seen too much plastic in the ocean, during dives, to be able to stay unaware. I source food not packaged in plastic to the best of my ability and if we do end up with plastic packaging, it had to be reusable if not recyclable. Plastic zip bags of hemp hearts or wild rice, for example, get rinsed and just turned over atop of utensils in their drying basket beside the sink where the drip dry for reuse. They tend to hold up significantly better than the zip lock type bags that are made with the intention of being used once and then tossed (shudder).

Jeanne: I have always washed them out with sudsy water, rinse, then I hang upside down on a wooden spatula smile emoticon I was lucky to grow up with resourceful Scot father. We didn’t use paper towel much either, and when we did, it also hung on the wooden spatula! So I’ve been doing this my whole life. I applaud all you do and you inspire!!!

Lissa: I used to use clothespins to pin them to a thin curtain rod in my kitchen window, but there was never enough room for all of the bags. Now we use a baby bottle drying rack.

Of course I got the baby bottle drying rack from my Buy Nothing group.

Ann: I put a pair of tongs in them and put them on the dish drainer, facing up. They dry out nicely that way.

Robynn: We wash them and then air dry on a mitten rack. I found it yeears ago in some crazy catalog and thought is would be perfect for bags. It makes me crazy to have them dry on the cooking utensils since they always seem to be in the way. We can get 10 bags (or 5 pairs of mittens!) on the rack!

Caroline: I dry them on slotted spoons, single chopsticks of varius sizes (missing their mates), I loved drying them on a mitten wrack as Robynn mentined but said wrack is in use for drying doggie raincoats & such nowadays.

Robynn: I dry the doggie rain coats & dog towels on a quilt racks that seem to pop up at the Salvation Army iwth increasing frequency. Home carpenters made some great sturdy racks to hold those heavy handmade quilts – but now no one seems to put (have?) quilts on them any more! smile emoticon

Caroline: I also use a large glass vase I got from Value Village for 50 cents years ago. I use branches that fall from trees, ut them in the vase & use them to dry plastic bags.

Tammy: yup, turn inside out, wash and they stay up alone, drying on the counter. dont buy anything ,just turn inside out and wash” For soups and messy stuff, ziplock has some great containers

Sandie: I put mine over mason jars and let them dry out or use a large wooden spoon in a jar for the larger bags.

Deidra: I’ve been looking into the fabric/oil cloth type that are dishwasher safe. My boys tend to not save the plastic ones no matter how much I cringe.
Shanda: I reuse mine over and over. I rarely wash them, though. If it’s merely a little moisture from the produce, I just dry them on the fridge with magnets. I only wash if the produce goes bad, or if the bags contained meat.

Stephanie: We use our wine rack as a bag dryer.

Stephanie Browne's photo.


What does your bag-drying rig look like?