5 Ways to Avoid Buying Trashcan Liners


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Here are some easy ways to get by without ever having to buy trash bags.

When I lived in Seattle my under-sink trashcan was quite small. I could get away with this for several reasons: I lived alone, cooked frugally, and took enthusiastic advantage of the city’s single-stream recycling program. Generally it took a week or more for the can to fill up.

Being an illegitimus frugalis, I never bought a single kitchen trashcan liner. Why should I have, when plastic shopping bags were so ubiquitous? Even though I toted at least one reusable bag everywhere I went, the plastics had a way of accumulating:

I picked them up while walking home. (Once I also picked up some free ice cream this way.) 

People gave me things inside shopping bags.

Sometimes I bought so much (usually from the used-bread, used-meat, or dented-can bins) that the order wouldn’t fit in my cloth bag, so I’d have to accept an additional plastic one.

I gleaned them while on vacation. My relatives tend to use plastic with happy abandon. Folded-up bags take up practically no room in a carry-on.

Thus I always had at least a few dozen bags on hand. That is, until Seattle’s ban on plastic shopping bags took effect in July 2012.

Alternative bag sources

I had my backlog o’bags, and it was still possible to get more – discarded on the street, say, or from the Walgreens just over the city line. But I also had a secret weapon: my absolute inability to throw something away if I could get one more use from it.

Here are some of my frugal trashcan tips:

  • Open your next package of toilet paper at the top, with scissors. When the paper is used up, line the trashcan with the empty bag. (If you buy jumbo packs of paper towels or toilet paper at Costco, the big plastic outer wrap can be used for larger amounts of garbage.)
  • Getting new socks, underwear, or T-shirts? Open that package from the top as well.
  • The mail-order pharmacy sent my maintenance meds in soft, collapsible (and non-recyclable) envelopes that fit the bathroom trashcan perfectly.
  • Bags that held pet food or cat litter are stiff enough to stand upright in the kitchen trashcan. (I didn’t have a pet, but some of my neighbors did. As an inveterate dumpster wader, I’d pull the bags from the recycle bin.)
  • If you live in a non-recycling area, throw trash into a box and toss the filled carton into the dumpster or garbage can.

These practices may seem penny ante to some, and may very well be – I don’t know how much you actually save because I’ve never bought a box of plastic trashcan liners.

But it isn’t just the savings. I’m just as interested in giving that plastic one last use before it gets discarded. Imagine if millions of more people did this.

One more shot

Now I live in Anchorage, Alaska, where plastic bags are handed out as freely as insincere compliments on Ladies’ Night. Some stores give you a nickel per reusable bag, but I still see a lot of discarded bags floating around or impaled on winter-bare tree branches. Ugh.

My hostess is an avid recycler, so I’m back to generating very little garbage – and to lining the bathroom trashcan with shopping bags, toilet-paper packages, and the like.

Incidentally, those women’s magazines’ household-hints sections are correct: An empty tissue box does a great job organizing folded-up plastic shopping bags. The other items live in the bottom of or next to the trashcan, waiting for one more shot at usefulness.

Readers: Do you reuse bags or other items for trashcans? Got any other ideas to share?

More stories on DonnaFreedman.com:

Stacy Johnson

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