Help us use fewer zip-lock bags
April 21, 2016 7:18 AM   Subscribe

We use a lot of zip-lock bags in our house, most of them one-time uses and it kind of makes me uncomfortable. I'd like to figure out how we can reduce our usage of them as much as reasonably possible. Things that we use them for:

1. Freezing meat. We'll generally buy big chunks of ground beef, divide them into 1-lb chunks, wrap in cling wrap, stick them all in a big freezer bag, and toss it in the chest freezer. Or we'll freeze sausage links from family packs.

2. Freezing baked goods. We'll make baked oatmeal, muffins, etc.

3. Freezing sauces. Pesto, leftover tomato paste, etc.

4. Freezing breakfast burritos. We tend to make large batches of eggs and turn them into breakfast burritos for future lazy mornings. We have a large-ish chest freezer and we definitely make the most of it. They, like the meat, get wrapped with cling wrap and stored in the zip-lock bag. Oddly, tossing cling wrap doesn't bother me nearly as much as tossing the zip-lock bags.

5. Transporting breast pump parts, pre and post-use. This is what causes us to go through one bag a day. I suggested maybe trying to sterilize the bags with boiling water so that we don't have to toss them after a single use, but my wife isn't sure that's a great plan.

If anyone has any ideas on the best ways to re-use our bags or even replace them with non-use-and-toss items, I'd love the input.
posted by JimBJ9 to Home & Garden (43 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
You can get reusable ziplock containers or even better, glass Tupperware, for your freezer needs.

Don't ask your wife to change the way she pumps milk for your child.
posted by sockermom at 7:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [21 favorites]

I re-use my freezing bags for the same stuff. I make chicken stock and freeze them in ice cubes then large ziplock. When it's all used, I just leave the bag in the freezer until I make more next time.
posted by monologish at 7:23 AM on April 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

We reuse freezer ziplock bags in order of use... so first you use a bag to store frozen muffins, then you use it to store burritos and then you use it to store sauces.

I almost never reuse bags that I use to store uncooked meat.

I wouldn't touch #5.
posted by larthegreat at 7:26 AM on April 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

So the Ziploc bags are just to hold everything together after you cling wrap it? I'd buy those mesh bags you can get for produce and use that, because then you can reuse them.
posted by xingcat at 7:27 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

If anyone has any ideas on the best ways to re-use our bags

When you are done with the bag, wash it (sponge, soap, water), let it dry, put it away, and then re-use it.

Because I am a little paranoid about meat, I actually keep two put-it-away places (tupperwares). Once there has been raw meat in a bag, I write "meat" on it with a sharpie and then I only use that bag for raw meat. Everything else goes in blank bags. Non-raw-meat bags can become meat bags, but meat bags will always be meat bags.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:27 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I guess I am just not clear on why you can't use containers for most of this. I make muffins, lay them flat in a large but flat container, and freeze them. I have small containers I can use for hummus, pasta sauce, soup and other liquidy leftovers. I have gotten rid of most of the plastic and use glass containers now because they can go in the dishwasher. It's so handy!

Not sure about the breast pumping. But for all the other stuff, just use containers?
posted by JoannaC at 7:31 AM on April 21, 2016

We wash and re-use Ziploc bags that didn't hold raw meat. Also we try to use Pyrex/Tupperware where possible.

We probably only go through a box a year of Ziploc at this point.
posted by Chrysostom at 7:31 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

For meat & nursing, keep doing what you're doing, or use containers for the meat.

But for #2, #3 & #4 just wash, flip inside-out to dry, & reuse. For #4 you don't even need to wash unless burrito-juice escaped the cling wrap.
posted by headnsouth at 7:33 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

For 1, 2, and 4, reusable freezer bags or a Pyrex glass storage set. Specifically for burritos, I double-wrap them in foil and then put them in the freezer as-is so they can go right from the freezer into the toaster oven.

For 3, mason jars or ice cube trays.

For 5, a set of microwave-safe steam sterilizing bags, which can be reused up to 20 times each.
posted by amnesia and magnets at 7:34 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

4. Freezing breakfast burritos. We tend to make large batches of eggs and turn them into breakfast burritos for future lazy mornings. We have a large-ish chest freezer and we definitely make the most of it. They, like the meat, get wrapped with cling wrap and stored in the zip-lock bag. Oddly, tossing cling wrap doesn't bother me nearly as much as tossing the zip-lock bags.
I do foil for burritos, though I suppose cling wrap works the same way - it holds them well and I don't use anything else. If you need the bag for organization, perhaps you could just reuse the same one over and over? I can't imagine it would get dirty if the burritos are well-wrapped.
posted by R a c h e l at 7:36 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

We bought a bag drying rack a few years ago. Search Amazon for "plastic bag drying rack" or maybe "bag tree."

It works well. We just wash the heavier Ziplocks with soap and water and then let them dry on the rack.

I don't re-use bags that had meat or anything too icky in them. For meat storage we use Rubbermaid containers or aluminum foil, and then recycle the foil.
posted by bondcliff at 7:38 AM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are some really good suggestions upthread, but for items #1 and #3, you might want to look into getting a vacuum sealer? I was kind of shocked at how much of a reduction in terms of the amount of plastic you use, when we moved over to a vacuum sealer, the bags come in huge rolls that you cut to fit what you need. No more 2 chicken legs inside a gallon zip top because the pint zip top doesn't work. We pretty much just use the rolls now for 90% of our plastic-packed needs. They're basically one use, but

Also, almost every zip top-bag can be washed and dried. They're usually good for a couple uses at least.
posted by furnace.heart at 7:42 AM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Glass storage like this is great for your food needs.
posted by splitpeasoup at 7:47 AM on April 21, 2016

If you are wrapping things in cling wrap already you don't need to put them in a zip lock too. So for 1&4 just skip it. If you must use them to sort already packaged items, they aren't actually dirty, reuse.

For #2, baked goods keep better tightly wrapped anyway - follow #1&4, or wrap in foil and leave wrapped to heat in oven or toaster oven.

Get some small freezer safe containers (1c-1qt) for #3, much easier than bags.

#5 - there is no better solution to this than the one your wife already has, so just think about how much plastic formula packaging you aren't using instead.
posted by sputzie at 7:48 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I use really cheap zippered bags because most stuff doesn't need such sturdy plastic. So I waste a smaller volume of plastic and they're cheap at the dollar store or Big Lots. I reuse zipper bags to put compostables in, in the sink. Dump compost in bin, discard bag. Burritos & hamburg patties get wrapped in waxed paper, which is maybe less nasty when microwaved, and meat patties separate better.

I know many people who wash sturdy ziplock bags, but I find it annoying. Where possible, I use plastic containers, easily washed and re-used. Chinese takeout containers get many lives in my house.

Transporting pump and stuff? Paper lunch bags are clean and possibly less unpleasant for the environment. Also, anything damp or wet can dry.

Aluminum is incredibly toxic to mine and foil nearly impossible to recycle, so I use it quite sparingly.
posted by theora55 at 7:48 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I transport my breastpump parts in a mesh lingerie bag within my larger tote, so that they have air to dry if they are slightly damp. Also, I'm on kid number two and have, oh, 31 months of pumping under my belt now. I promise, promise, promise you, you do not need to fully sterilize the parts before and after every single use (as my doctor once said to me - you don't sterilize your breasts before you nurse, do you?) A good rinse under the hottest water you can find during the day, and then sterilize at night before you go to bed, after the last session of the day (and more often than not I simply wash, rather than sterilize every day).
posted by vignettist at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2016 [16 favorites]

Why not rubbermaid/other containers? You can put them in the dishwasher.

If you do end up wanting to wash/dry zip lock bags, I'd invest in a wooden rack to hold them open upside-down while they dry. Otherwise it will be a huge burden.

However, we manage to live without using any zip-lock bags:

For items to be made weekly and reheated, we found some glass jars with plastic lids that work great. Since plastic doesn't work well in the microwave, these are actually awesome - we don't have to use _any_ other dishes - no plates or bowls. You can just heat the stuff in the glass dish and eat it from there.

For stuff that you wouldn't want to microwave, like eggy-bready stuff (that tends to get leathery in the microwave), I tend to wrap it in foil and reheat it in a toaster oven.
posted by amtho at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2016

We label our freezer bags with what's in them: raw meat (wrapped in plastic + foil), cooked meat, bread, bagels, pancakes, etc., and they're mostly reused until the zip-tops stop working. I've never washed a bag. We've probably been using the same pancake bags (which, sure, have smears of chocolate chip on them) for going on a year now.

As for pump parts, it's been awhile, but I'm relatively certain we washed the parts, wrapped them in clean paper towels, and re-used the same bag over and over. When we sterilized we probably changed the bag, but truthfully, who knows. Baby is healthy as a horse. Possibly healthier.
posted by uncleozzy at 7:50 AM on April 21, 2016

Sharpie for labeling bags. Don't bother to rewash anything that was "dry", like muffins or waffles or whatever.

For washing/drying, a 2 liter soda bottle is great as a drying rack.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 7:58 AM on April 21, 2016

Seconding vignettist. Treat your pump parts like you'd treat a glass of milk. Rinse it out after use, transport it home in any old thing, wash it with soap and hot water and let it dry. Every now and then boil them to fully sterilize. Unless your child has an immune deficiency, that is a perfectly acceptable level of sanitation for breast pump parts.
posted by soren_lorensen at 8:14 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

How about these microwavable quick clean bags for transporting the breast pump parts? They can each be used up to 20 times.
posted by cubby at 8:14 AM on April 21, 2016

For #5, I also used the reusable Medela microwave steam bags to no ill effect, through 2 kids for a year each. I only sterilized once a day, just rinsing between uses, and I'm sure hot water/soap would have been fine, I was lazy and using the bags was easier.
posted by pekala at 8:17 AM on April 21, 2016

I agree with everyone regarding the level of sanitation (not) needed for the breast pump parts. I just washed mine, dried them, and tossed them in my tote bag without a second thought.

BUT! Pumping is a huge pain in the ass that rests solely on your wife, so your wife gets final say about the process. You might suggest it ONCE as a way to reduce the number of things she needs to stress about, and using the Medela steam bag instead sounds like a good alternative, but if she wants to use the plastic bag, let it go. It may be one bag a day, but it’s likely for less than a year.
posted by Kriesa at 8:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Um. Unless you have a baby who is immuno compromised, no need to sterilise the bag for the pump. Or the pump or the bottles. Everything must be scrupulously clean, the water must be boiled till 1 year, but don't sterilise. Nipples aren't sterilised. Baby fingers aren't sterilised.

Australian hospitals started recommending not sterilising about ten years ago. Too much sterilising of things is a bad thing in terms of allergies for kids later. Why I know this... because Australia has some of the highest asthma rates in the world. So maternity hospitals looked in to it. And now no one sterilises. Dishwasher if you wish, but just a very thorough wash and dry. Babies can't have tap water. But once it's dried off, is good to go.

Droplets from freshly washed items that haven't dried are the issue. It's not a surgical field. It's a baby's gob. Which often times has a nipple that's been sitting in a sweaty bra in it.

Have a zippered lined toiletry type bag for transporting the clean pump etc and a boring shopping bag for the used pump.
posted by taff at 8:21 AM on April 21, 2016 [4 favorites]

Commenting on #2, 3, 4 (I don't have meat in the house or babbies): In all of these cases, you can definitely wash, hang dry, and reuse the ziploc bags. I don't bother to wash bags that hold things that are 1) dry and I can easily shake crumbs out 2) held things that are cling-wrapped.

When washing bags that held sauces, I check for any small leaks. If there are any, I don't toss the bags after washing, but use them for non-food purposes.

If you're using cling-wrap and putting things into ziploc bags, then you're job is even easier as you likely don't need to wash your ziplocs.
posted by vivzan at 8:27 AM on April 21, 2016

I would just leave non-meat bags in the freezer to refill with whichever contents, especially since you are pre-wrapping most things in plastic wrap. When I wash the bags, I drape mine over the taller things in my utensil crock to dry.
posted by sarajane at 8:35 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another option on the breast pump parts is to buy breast pump wipes ($$$) or pacifier wipes ($), and use those to wipe down the parts between pumping sessions. In my experience, that cleaned off enough milk that nothing really transferred to the plastic bag, and I felt fine re-using a gallon bag for storing the pumping parts for a week or two before throwing it out and getting a new bag.

I worked in an office and I never felt super-comfortable schlepping my dripping breast pump horns and flanges to the sink to rinse off. I think a lot of women use wipes for exactly that reason--you can clean up the parts enough to not need rinsing without needing to necessarily use a sink.
posted by iminurmefi at 8:43 AM on April 21, 2016

do you have cats? I reuse sandwich and all sizes bags for scooping dirty litter into then seal & toss and our trash doesn't stink as much either. I also use precut parchment paper to wrap breakfast burritos or baked goods then freeze in a gallon bag which is reused over & over till it gets a final dose of kitty litter. I really prefer to microwave foods in parchment or waxed paper vs a plastic baggie.
posted by RichardHenryYarbo at 9:07 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I try not to use plastic for all the reasons, so glass containers is my first go to, jars, small glass cassasrole type see-through dishes with lids for fridge leftovers, and another thing i do is put the same leftover in the same non-see through crock-type container so we all know what's in there (ie rice)... but sometimes having a plastic zip bag is needed, having a box of the bags is an extra convenience. After explaining my methods and reasons to family I put the ziploc bags in a hard to reach, out of the way place, getting one is a hassle, so getting a container and finding the lid is easier...this encouraged our family to change the habit and use the option of container v grabbing another zip bag. Path of least resistance type of thing. For #5 the bags are off limits for other uses. Freezing in cassarole dishes too.
posted by RelaxingOne at 9:13 AM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I'll add mine to the pile of alternate breast pump part carrying methods-- I carried my clean flanges in a quart size ziploc bag that I reused every day until it started to look visibly grungy (a month, maybe?). After pumping I would wrap the flanges in a flannel burp cloth to keep milk drips off of the inside of my carrying case (not back in the clean ziploc), then wash them at home that evening. Once dry, they'd go back into the same ziploc for use the next day. I've never been the type to care if things were super-clean and sanitized, so ymmv on your comfort levels or needs.

For other purposes, I will reuse ziplocs for most anything except when I use them for marinating meats. I always buy the heavy duty freezer bags so that they hold up to multiple uses, washing or rinsing in between as needed. Personally I would (and do) use them multiple times to freeze meat, assuming that the meat is already wrapped (as in the strofoam tray + plastic wrap from the store). I wouldn't go from meat-storing to bagel-storing in the same bag, however.

I'm pretty sure my husband thinks I'm crazy for reusing the same bags over and over, but I hate wasting them.
posted by Jemstar at 9:15 AM on April 21, 2016

Chiming in on the pump parts - at work, I rinse my pump parts in the hottest water possible and dry them with paper towels. I transport them in an *open* ziplock bag inside my tote so they dry out, plus I leave a paper towel or two inside to absorb anything dripping around (I also keep the bottles I collect the milk in, plus caps, in the bag too). I have been using the same one for a while now - every once in a while I wipe it out if there are spare drips. And I have discovered that cleaning anything with soured breastmilk is WILDLY unpleasant (and we don't have a dishwasher), so rinsing right away is so much better. That said, to be fair, rinsing and drying all the fiddly parts takes extra time at work. The whole process is kind of a massive PITA, so if she has a system she likes, I think I'd leave that one alone.
posted by vunder at 10:06 AM on April 21, 2016

I use glass jam jars and mason jars for sauces and soups. You have to leave room at the top for expansion.

I never wrap anything in plastic wrap or foil. I spread stuff out on a cookie sheet and put that in my regular freezer. Once it's frozen I pack it up in a leftover tortilla bag or a small plastic bag or a takeout container and move that to the chest freezer. Your tolerance for freezer burn may be lower than mine but you could do some experimentation and see what happens.

I also rarely freeze raw meat- I make whatever I'm using it for and then freeze that so I don't have to be super careful about isolating raw foods.

I save most of the glass jars and nice plastic containers that we get when we buy certain items or get takeout. Two drawers of my kitchen are devoted to that stuff and it took me awhile to get a system down.
posted by betsybetsy at 12:14 PM on April 21, 2016

For meats, bread, and other large-ish solid items, I use freezer paper and have found it to work well. Bonus points, I can just label it right on the wrapping with a Sharpie.
posted by Kat Allison at 12:20 PM on April 21, 2016

The easiest way I've found to dry plastic bags is using a magnet to stick them to the fridge, using a corner will help the bag stay open.

At my house, we also reuse plastic produce bags from the grocery for freezing baked goods, double bagged and/or using twist ties.
posted by momus_window at 12:36 PM on April 21, 2016

Even with reuse (bringing containers and shopping the bulk aisle), I buy so many containers with food in them that I never need to buy containers without food in them. It doesn't take much time to build up a collection of containers in all shapes, sizes, and materials.
posted by aniola at 12:38 PM on April 21, 2016

For the pump parts, I used a dishwasher-safe plastic tupperware. I put the parts in it in the fridge between pumps (therefore no need to clean them between uses for 24 hours), and at the end of the day I threw the parts and the tupperware into the dishwasher. Have two around and you're all set.
posted by reksb at 1:40 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Nthing wash and reuse all your ziplock bags. Here is some anecdata to support this claim:

My mom is a notorious ziplock bag reuser. We have some heavy-duty freezer bags that have been around for years. The labels say things like blueberries 2007 blueberries 2009 blueberries 2011 blueberries 2013.

One time I walked into my kitchen to see my mom holding some frozen blueberries, doubled over with laughter because my dad had written, way back in blueberry season, on the bag: "Please help me, I am old and tired, I am seven years old, put me out of my misery!"
posted by lollymccatburglar at 2:05 PM on April 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

Chopsticks in a vase or mug are also a bag-drying rack.
posted by clew at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

Toss 'em. They are low mass and cheap.

This question came up before and I once had a long discussion with good friends (scientists/engineering types) and we concluded that a good rule of thumb is "how much does it weigh + How much does it cost?" : the logic is that cost and mass tend to be highly correlated with extraction cost and environmental damage.

A hundred ziploc bags weigh a couple of pounds and cost a few dollars (retail: wholesale is probably a few pennies).

A gallon of gasoline weighs 8 pounds and costs $3.

Suppose you take a 20 mile detour to a special "ziploc recycling store" once a year.

Or suppose you buy a $5 good off Amazon to replace your ziploc consumption.

If any behavior you take to "save the environment" entails you burning up (figuratively or literally) more than the equivalent weight or cost in another resource, you are probably doing a net negative for the environment.
posted by soylent00FF00 at 5:23 PM on April 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Don't bother to rewash anything that was "dry", like muffins or waffles or whatever.

These do need washing -- they leave oil/butter residue, which will go rancid over time.
posted by amtho at 6:22 PM on April 21, 2016

I've always washed and reused Ziploc bags. If you normally hand-wash dishes, do these first. Most just need a swish or so. You can use utensils in your dish rack to hold them - forks, spoons, spatulas, etc. Pro tip: turn the bags inside-out to dry. That way any remaining water droplets are on the outside of the bag when you turn it back rightside-out.
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess at 1:05 AM on April 22, 2016

I agree with wash-and-reuse, especially for uses like muffins where there is no risk of contamination.

I would let your wife decide how she wants to deal with pumping -- among other things, unlike eating food, this is a limited-time thing that at most is going to last a couple of years. If you do want to suggest a higher-time-commitment solution, be ready to take on 110% of the job -- under no circumstances suggest that your wife needs to make pumping EVEN MORE OF A PAIN to assuage your Ziplock guilt.
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:27 AM on April 22, 2016

FYI, ziplocks are recyclable with the plastic bags at the grocery store. Most grocery stores I've been to have a dropoff for plastic bags. Stick all your ziplocks in a shopping bag and recycle it there.

But I just use Pyrex containers. The benefit is they're freezer AND oven safe, so baking something goes like this: put into Pyrex to bake-->into oven-->out of oven and onto counter to cool--->into freezer once cool. Very convenient.
posted by epanalepsis at 12:00 PM on April 22, 2016

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