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40 Things to do with Brown Paper Bags

August 6, 2012

In Portland it’s all the rage to bring your own shopping bags to supermarkets, eliminating the need to use store bags and thus reducing your environmental footprint. Some grocery stores have ceased to offer plastic bags altogether. Many have begun to credit customers five cents for every bag they bring that gets filled with groceries.

It’s a good trend, but if you’re like me you still end up with a cabinet full of brown bags. I just can’t seem to remember to take my reusable bags along when I go shopping. Maybe it’s because my grocery trips tend to be incorporated into the flow of my work days; I seldom leave the house solely to go shopping. Maybe I’m just forgetful. In any case I’ve been having a hard time getting with the new way of bagging groceries.

Maybe one day we’ll be able to cash brown bags in like bottles and finance a shopping trip. Maybe I should start storing them in the truck against this early onset of selective Alzheimer’s. But in the meantime, for all of us who’ve created a special spot in the house for brown paper grocery bags, here is an extensive list of creative uses for them – in no particular order.

40) Wrapping Paper – cut down one side and cut out the bottom. Remove any handles. Wrap with the inside of the bag on the outside of the package. Optional: draw or paint on it first.

39) Painting Underlayment – cut as in #40. Place under paper or canvas to protect your table. Excellent for use with children.

38) Dust Jackets Great for school books.

37) Fruit ripening – Place under-ripe fruit in a brown paper bag. Fold the top down and leave overnight, or as long as necessary. The fruit will ripen quicker than sitting in a bowl. Works well with mangoes, avocadoes, and peaches in particular.

36) Start a fire – in a fireplace or wood-burning stove, preferably.

35) Litter removal – emptying pet litter into paper bags instead of plastic will allow it to deteriorate faster. Double the bags for wet litter; you don’t want it degrading before it gets to the landfill.

34) Garbage can liner – same as #35. There’s no reason to put garbage in a bag that’s going to last hundreds of years. Plastic might fold over the top of the can easier, but paper serves the purpose. If you’re worried about spillage, carry the whole can out and empty it directly into your larger container.

33) Crafting – there’s no limit to what you can make with a pair of scissors, some glue, and a good stock of brown paper bags. Cut it into flat sheets (see #40) and let your kids go wild. It doesn’t cost anything and you won’t feel bad about throwing the excess away (ERR: recycling it) afterwards.

32) Testing for Fat – rub any food product against a brown paper bag. It will turn translucent if fat is present. You may have to rub aggressively (or squeeze) with seeds and nuts, etc.

31) Masks – turn a bag upside down and cut out eye holes. Decorate as desired.

30) Stress Relief – crumple a bag into as small a ball as possible. Drop kick it. Throw it against a wall. Tear it into tiny shreds. Stomp on it. Then clean it up.

29) Storage – this one is pretty obvious: put stuff in the bag. Don’t overfill as they have a tendency to tear.

28) Kitten toys – if you haven’t seen it, you can’t have any idea of how much fun a kitten can have with a brown bag lying open on its side.

27) Picnic Basket – who needs an elegant container to put your lunch in? There’s a reason brown bag lunches got their name – kids have been taking them to school for years. Grocery sized bags work for the whole family.

26) A Loud Noise – funnel the open end into a small hole and blow air in the bag. Squeeze it tight. While the air is trapped, pop it quickly with the other hand. BANG! Highly useful to annoy focused family members or jittery neighbors. Warning: do not use in banks, airports, or in the presence of law enforcement agents.

25) Compost – tear it into shreds and add to your food waste. The fibers will help create a good balance. (Nicole LoBue)

24) Kite Making – either split it open and use the material to build a traditional kite, or simply reinforce the top edges, tie strings in the corners, decorate, and fly! (Marianne Mandoe Berlev)

23) Popcorn – pour the popped kernels into a bag and dress as desired. Shake. Us hippies like nutritional yeast, olive oil, salt, and maybe a little chili powder or paprika. Alternately, pop it in the bag, in the microwave. (Derek Smith)

22) Mulch – cut as in #40, but keep the bottom. Lay around plants to keep the weeds down. (Hallelujah Grace)

21) Tophat – Garnish it in tissue paper and pom pom fuzzies, scrunch up the bottom and wear it like a hat. (Cypria Dionese)

20) Luminaries – Put some sand in the bottom, set a tea candle in the middle, and place safely away from flammables. Great for lining driveways during the holidays. (Jessica McLellan)

19) Cowboy attire – Make a vest out of one, chaps too while yer at it hoss, then have a western style shoot out with some more, and fly off into the sunset in your new hot air balloon.. (Derek Smith)

18) Practical Jokes – I remember something about poo, fire, and a bag… (Autumn Pardee)

17) Origami – who needs designer paper? Cut into squares and follow the directions. Great for practicing those tough figures.

16) Mushroom Storage – oddly enough, mushrooms last longer in the fridge when they’re stored in brown paper bags. Works with onions too.

15) Envelopes – why buy when you can make your own? All you need is scissors, glue, and… a brown paper bag! Soon you’ll feel like a kid too (see #33).

14) Clean your windows – brown bags work just as well as newspaper.

13) Wax removal – place over a wax stain on your carpet or couch. Rub a warm iron over it – the wax will absorb into the bag and the stain will disappear!

12) Shelf Liners – cut to size and lay on your cupboard shelves.

11) Patterns – if you make clothes, brown bags work great for creating patterns. They’re tougher than paper, cheaper than cloth, and infinitely duplicable.

10) Papier Mache – cut into strips and use like newspaper.

9) Wiper Savers – place under your windshield wipers in snowy / icy weather. In the morning, or after work, remove. The wipers should work immediately without frustrating scraping.

8) De-Greasing – lay fried food on brown bags to absorb oil. You can also cool cookies on them.

7) Dry Herbs – wash the plants first, towel dry, then place upside down in a paper bag. Gather the end of the bag around the stems and tie it up. Poke a few holes for ventilation. Store in a cool, dry place for at least two weeks.

6) Wool storage – use it for storing sheep wool, which does not like plastic. (Bodil Mandoe Ollgard)

5) Packaging – crumple into balls and fill those empty spots in your packages. Be sure to mention what a valuable resource you are giving the recipient.

4) Temporary Blinds – cut flat and cover your windows if you need to sleep during the day. Great for northern latitudes, or storefronts under construction. Though personally I prefer curtains.

3) Alcohol Disguise – Put a beer in it and walk around the block. (Harmony Hasbrook)

2) Veggie Gathering – take one with you into the garden. Put your harvest in it.

1) The number one use of a brown paper bag: *drum roll…* TAKE IT SHOPPING!

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this list. I’m sure there are more than 40 uses for brown bags; feel free to come up with your own and share the results. What else can you find creative uses for – soda cans? Junk mail? Remember: there are more ways to recycle than sorting your refuse into the proper bins. And if your town doesn’t have bins, it’s entirely up to you.


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