I’m obsessively practical with eating and cooking. A huge part of my eating plans (on both the online 8-Week Program and in my books) includes pre-cooking and freezing meals, or ingredients to turn into meals, in ziplock or sandwich baggies. My trick – which can stop barbeques – is this bit. Ready? I wash them out after use. Yep, revolutionary.

Drip-drying ziplock bags on my windows

To be fair, the bit that gets people falling off stools is the drying technique I invented, ‘cos that’s the bit we all find annoying right? This is how it goes:

With my hand slipped into the inside of the wet bag, I slap it on my kitchen window or splash-back.

It sticks, drys, and then…

Falls off when ready to store/use again. Ingenius!

OK, but the question is, does it make a damn bit of eco difference?

One 2007 Californian study showed that 220 litres of water were required to produce 1500 plastic bags—about 0.15 litres of water per bag. It takes five seconds to wash out a baggie. Since most kitchen taps flow at about 7.5 litres per minute, that’s roughly 0.6 litres of water per washing, or about four times the amount required to make a new plastic bag.

But leaving aside the water cost, the other benefits of reusing bags—savings on raw materials, emissions from shipping, and landfill space—make washing completely worthwhile, says Darby Hoover, a senior resource specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. Because you’re reusing, fewer bags need to be produced. And less energy, water and a non-renewable resource will be used for those bag productions.

Even if you have to use water to wash out a bag, you’re saving resources overall.

To my mind it totally stacks up. I’m going to to stun folk at my next dinner party with these “finessing” tips.

1. Avoid using really hot water. There’s been some concern that chemicals from plastic bags could leach into foods at high temperatures. While there aren’t any studies on hot water washing changing the chemical structure of the bags, just to be safe, avoid really hot water.

2. Only rinse and reuse if you’ve used the bag for salads or veggies. (Not for raw meats.)

3. Try to recycle your old bags once you’re done with them (when they change colour or opacity they’re no longer good for use).

4. Invest in good quality reusable bags.

Have you tried washing and reusing your ziplock bags? Any other waste-free tips you use in the kitchen?

Have your say, leave a comment.

  • Hi Sarah,

    my mother does this as well and of course has passed this trick onto me .

    i use my shopping bags as garbage bags…i cannot remember the last timeI bought garbage bags …so with a compost and recycling and a family of 5 we aim to keep the bin as empty as possible!

    D 🙂

    • Another clever idea!

      • keeta

        Another life hack is ditching the shopping bags altogether- reuseable bags = even less plastic/fossil fuels generated/consumed and use newspaper to line the garbage bin instead…the paper is biodegradeable, soaks up moisture and keeps the pong to the minimum… dont buy newspapers? most newsagents give away old newspapers without the mastheads… (learnt this off one of my elderly neighbours- apparently this is what everyone did before plastics were invented!) . 🙂

  • Kat

    oh I do this, stick them on the window or hang them on piece of fishing line I have hanging down it creates a bit of conversation. Most seem to think its to save money and I have been called a tightarse!! 😐 then I explain why….they don’t seem to get it.
    to me it makes sense, its easy and practical.
    Every little bit counts

  • Elizabeth Procter

    Love this! Ikea zip-lock bags are excellent for washing and reusing over and over again.

  • Louise

    Hi Sarah,
    I do this all the time. I put fruit and veg straight into ziplock bags but, if I’m doing meat, I wrap portions in cling wrap or freezer bags and then put them all into a zip lock bag. I also love freezing things in zip lock bags with a marinade – the freeze/thaw process seems to add so much infused flavour!
    I come from a family of 6 and our parents has always had issues with so-called disposable items… Straws go in the dishwasher for a few uses, my dad’s lunch bag (a freezer bag) always got reused for at least a week, foil gets reused (as long as nothing melted onto it), baking paper gets trimmed well to size and every last piece is used for lining cake tins,shopping bags are used as bin liners, paper towel is never used – we have microfiber clothes to mop up spills and do cleaning, I could go on and on! It used to drive me nuts as a kid but now I’ve adopted these practices in my own family!

    • Elle

      You can get reusable straws – heavier plastic, which weathers the dishwasher much better (they also come in fun colours and bendy shapes), or metal, which obviously lasts really well, and washes well too. Although, in most cases, you can go without straws. They are my pet hate in bars, so so many wasted and really not necessary. I try ask without, but they’re put in anyway, and when I politely point out I’d asked for no straw they go to remove it & throw it away, and then I end up explaining why I don’t want one.

    • JB

      I do all of these things with straws, foil, baking papers etc. as I have a very tight budget. I also keep butter wrappers for greasing pans and cake tins so nothing gets wasted.

  • Sharon

    I do this and then dry them on putting them on the end of my knives in the knife block! Works a treat!

  • Rebecca

    If you are freezing liquids, put them in a ziplock bag and put it on a baking tray in the freezer. It will freeze flat, so then is very easy to fit in the freezer with lots of other things, and will defrost more quickly than a big block.

  • Bec

    I use plastic covers (instead of glad wrap) if taking food to parties or entertaining. (They look like shower caps)
    I wash and reuse them , saves on glad wrap ! Plus they don’t touch your food , I don’t like glad wrap touching my food

    • will need to find some

      • Rebecca

        You can find them in health food shops and online. More environmental than buying plastic bags. For freezing we use a lot of glass containers. We do use plastic as well but try to limit it right down.

  • Emily

    Stainless steel straws are so good at sucking up berry chunks in my smoothies. Most ebay sellers include a cleaning brush too! Before this we kept a pipecleaner on the kitchen windowsill to clean out plastic straws so we could use them several times.

  • Rachel

    I take the shower caps from hotels and use them as food covers to take food to parties/picnics…. and wash them and reuse them a million times over.
    My mum used to wash food bags in the 1970’s… I had the same sandwich bag for my entire 5 years at high school!

  • Hayley

    I did this years ago & stopped because I just got a bit lazy. I restarted washing & re-using zip locks about 6 months ago & I haven’t bought a new pack since then!! I use them for freezing leftovers & also to take lunch & dinner to work so use them fairly often. I pop them over my glasses or jugs to dry.

  • Biljana

    Hi Sarah,
    I have been doing this since my kids started school , 14 yr ago, and have always encouraged them to bring back their lock bags. I go through 1 pack in 2 – 3 years, thats prity good in my books. And drying them, I hang them over the drinking glass, they are dry by the next morning. As some others have mentioned I also reuse the aluminium foil and baking paper. Paper towels are used at minimal. Regards, Biljana.

  • Christine

    I opt for bpa free freezable “Tupperware”. It’s Swiss made (which is where I live), too. Why do you stick to zip log bags and not switch to containers? Just out of curiosity.

    • They’re more versatile for some things, can be frozen flat etc.

    • JB

      I use a combination of both zip lock bags and containers but Sarah is right about the versatility of zip lock bags. My daughter uses the zip lock bags as piping bags when icing cupcakes etc.

  • ines

    I use Tupperware too. they have freezer specific once and you never have to buy plastic bags again. for liquids like sauce use sinchies.

  • Amy- Otherwiseliving

    I don’t use them. I just freeze things in glass jars!

    • I do too… but have had a few breakages/explosions.

  • Anna

    Ooh and always reuse the plastic bag that bread comes wrapped in

    • JB

      I like to re-use plastic bread bags for ‘overwrapping’ fresher loaves and other items that I want to store in the freezer to avoid ‘freezer burn’. I also have a long bread basket for serving bread loaves at the table and the bread bags are long and skinny too which make them good dust covers for storing my bread basket.

  • Danielle

    Hey Sarah, have you tried the Sinchies re-usable’s? I find they work really well, better quality and last ages. I’ve had mine for months and use them A LOT and they are still in fab condition

  • Bizarley

    Recycle jam jars for storage of pulses, buttons or more jam!

  • Elisabetts

    My mother always did and use zip lock bags for everything and wash them in the washing up

  • Elisabetts

    I also have washable calico bags to take to the supermarket doesnt take much effort!

  • Sarah, I read this tip on your blog ages ago and I’ve been doing it ever since. Such a great tip!

    When I put leftover food in the fridge, I also cover the top of the bowl with a plate instead of using glad wrap. The plate usually stays clean so I don’t even need to wash it afterwards.

    • plate trick – me too….I microwave using a plate, too…

  • Melissa

    I’m so turned off by throw away habits. I hate to see leftovers scraped into the bin in an effort to be as “sophisticated” as the local café. Danielle Walker (Against all Grain) recently said that she washes out her baggies and to be honest, I find that endearing. I like being part of a tribe that respects the same frugal, practical, no bullshit values.

    • and sharing the tips…it’s old-school community stuff

  • Susannah

    One time a friend asked me, very puzzled, why I had clothes pins on my kitchen cabinet handles. For drying my zip locks and bags, of course!

  • I can add to this heavy duty topic. We too are ziplock recyclers. I’ve found that the upside down approach isn’t as good as the opening at the top approach. I put them outside on our foldaway clothesline and if I go upside down they tend to evaporate the water inside which is of course caught at the top then recondenses. If I hang them opening-up, the water evaporates and leves the bag.

    Sarah, I emailed you about advertising and got no response.

    Ian Hamilton

  • Anne

    Just wondering if you have ever done an analysis on hand washing versus using a dishwasher. I never use a dishwasher because I hate stacking and unstacking, I don’t like the thought of cockroaches living behind the dishwasher, or the greasy build up that happens in the pipes. I was once told that the detergent used in dishwashers was incredibly strong and one of the most toxic products in the average household; even minute traces left behind on the utensils could be harmful. Plus, I actually don’t mind hand washing dishes! It’s quite relaxing and satisfying.

  • JB

    I don’t use zip lock bags a lot but one cannot deny their re-usable utility and their ability to keep food fresh. My main use is in school lunch boxes. As I have a very tight budget, I will buy occasional snack foods like crisps in bulk and then divide the large packets into smaller serves in snap-lock bags. The bags are also good for dividing up a big batch of home popped popcorn. I have always washed them out with the dishes and wash them inside out. I might use a chopstick to open up the inside corners to help them dry. I usually hang them over a glass or similar on the draining board. If they get a hole (usually in a bottom corner) they are marked for use as piping bags. When I feel that they are too worn to be re-used for food, they come in handy for keeping sets of small items together and are excellent for keeping balls of yarn under control, feeding the working thread through a small gap in the top zip and the ball remains clean inside the bag.

  • Dave Jones

    What about Germs !!! WHOOO http://www.wholesaleziplokbags.com

  • Bronwyn Turner

    I have started doing this and it’s easy. I actually use my ezyline peg less clotheslune that is permanently set up in my laundry. The bag slide into the’peg’ slots.i have found even the old fashioned travel clothes lines work too. I don’t have much of a kitchen window as the venetian blinds don’t stay up very well.
    I also use any vege bags from shopping as my bin for scraps whilst cooking.

  • Maya Joachim

    I’ve found the best longest lasting zip lock bags to be the ones that other food are sold in e.g. almonds, oats etc. I wash and reuse these once I’m finished with the food inside. I find that the plastic is stronger and it means that you are recycling this plastic rather than spending money on buying new plastic zip-lock bags.

  • walkinglong

    The other reason it stacks up is because of the un-biodegradable nature of plastic bags and where they usually end up once disposed of… places like the great pacific garbage patch where numerous animals are poisoned and/or starved as a result. Great work Sarah!