Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Thrifty Tips: Reusing Sandwich Bags

I was driving around the other day and glanced at the sticker on my car windshield that lets me know when my next oil change is due. I am approaching the mileage where it is time to make my next appointment, but I also noticed I am overdue on the calendar date the Honda dealership estimated I'd be back. Suckers! I am sure there is a mechanical reason for not letting dirty engine oil circulate in my car for too long, even though I have yet to reach the next three thousand mile oil change mark, but to me this is a sign that I have been driving much less than the average car driver out there. I feel like I'm extending the life of my car. I am driving less, thus delaying the pace of needed oil changes. As a result, I'm also saving money. This little sticker on my car windshield is a great measure for the pace of how I use up something. In this case, my car. But what if this same technique could be used for other things?

Have you ever noticed what a chore it feels like to reuse something? Throwing stuff away is so easy! Even recycling is easy! You use something, you toss it in a bin somewhere. Easy. In the ease of consumption we seldom really notice the pace of our consumption, until we slow it down. This is when a handy little sticker could be really helpful to track how quickly we use something up. Now, I am not suggesting you make little stickers for everything you consume, but you could!

Take the instance of those little plastic sandwich and freezer bags. I've been trying to eliminate them all together from my household, but they are so useful for some things. Saving glass jars from items you purchase at the grocery store and storing dinner leftovers in them is a good way to reduce the amount of plastic storage bags you use. Another way to slow down sandwich bag use, is to reuse them! I know, it isn't as fun as tossing them away. Each sandwich bag you wash and reuse will save you about five to ten cents. That can be real savings in the long run.

Now imagine that box of Ziploc bags you just bought from your favorite store came with a little sticker on it that said, "You are due back to Target in two weeks to buy more plastic bags". If you use up all your bags in time, what a faithful customer you will be! Every two weeks for a long, long time you can plan on adding Ziploc bags to your grocery list. On the other hand, if you wash and reuse your bags (and use jars for storing food), it may be a month, maybe two, before you have to buy another box! Target may be weeping, but you have just saved yourself money (and your landfill some extra space)! It is estimated a plastic bag takes 10-20 years to decompose!

If you don't know how fast you go through Ziploc bags (or any other product), start tracking! With a permanent marker, write the date directly on the box (or container) when you first begin using the product. When you have used it all, write the end date. Count the days or weeks it took you to use it all. Say it was two weeks. When you buy a new set of Ziploc bags, again write your start date and write the estimated end date (two weeks later). Now see if you can beat it! Make it a goal to extend the life of that box of Ziploc bags by an extra week or two! You just might find yourself pushing out the date of replacement even further each time.

To wash Ziploc bags, I find it easiest to turn them inside out, wash them with a little soap and warm water, and let them air dry upside down on a dish rack or atop a wine bottle. Otherwise, they tend to close and not dry completely. When they are dry, return them to the normal orientation and store to use again later. Being thrifty can fee like a small act, but it is one that matters. A little effort to fight the tendency to toss can make a real difference in a household's overall effort to save money and resources, reduce trash, and to extend the life of a product.

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