Repurposing Pants into Reusable Bags

I’ve been working to eliminate plastic from my life for a while, especially for items used for food and beverages (see plastic background below).

The last remaining items I’ve been using (actually reusing till they’re spent) are plastic bags for some bulk food purchasing  and produce. I take jars to the store for liquids and fine-grained items like flour, and store everything at home in non-plastic containers that once held various foods I bought years ago, or that I got from the reuse bin at my local store, Ashland Food Cooperative.

I’ve had a note on my mental to-do list to sew bulk bags from cotton fabric and thought I’d get some organic cotton from the fabric shop. While running one day (when my best ideas emerge), I remembered I had an old pair of lightweight cotton pants in my sewing box, waiting for a good reuse/repurposing since a few days of garden work and farm volunteering left them a bit unpresentable. These would be perfect, I realized, since I’d simply have to cut the legs to make bags of the right height, and sew the bottoms closed.

After finishing sewing projects for my nieces, I finally got around to this before I did my food shopping this week. To keep the bags closed, I put a drawstring in one (putting pant cuff at top of bag enabled this with no extra work) and sewed ties on the others. Drawstring is preferable since they stay closed securely better. For those with ties, I need to add a loop or another tie on the other side, to keep the ties from slipping…or do more sewing and convert to drawstrings. At the store, I weighed each bag empty and wrote that tare weight on it, since the store deducts the tare form total weight to determine cost. I need to add reusable tags to write the item numbers, and would put tare there to keep things easy for cashiers.

Next project – sew a few bags for to carry produce home, and check out thrift stores for large glass and metal containers to store these at home.

If you’re in need of larger reusable bags for groceries and other purchases, t-shirts and tank tops are great…check out photos and tips to make them here.

Plastic background…Plastic is a derived from chemical concoctions that are largely undisclosed, and often with unknown effects on our bodies and the planet. Most is made from petroleum, a non-renewable substance whose extraction and processing take a significant toll on the environment, and human lives in too many ways. There are more bio-based plastics these days, but few are made of sustainable, non-GMO materials, so they involve a host of other issues like contaminating organic crops with GMO pollen, and diverting farmland and related resources away from food production.

Much of the plastic we encounter isn’t accepted by local recycling programs so it’s landfilled (on top of the recyclables people don’t make the effort to recycle), and significant amounts wind up as litter and make their way to streams and the ocean, forming plastic islands in the ocean like the Pacific Gyre and killing myriad species that consume the debris. Bio-based “compostable” plastics fare no better, since few local composting programs accept them. the rigid varieties take eons to break down in the typical US airtight landfill, and they don’t compost easily or quickly in a home compost. (True cellulose films are home compostable.)

Unfortunately, we learn about specific additives and their ill-effects only after plastics bearing them have been put on the market, and humans and the rest of the natural world become guinea pigs to test their effects. Case in point: Bisphneol-A (BPA), which has been used for years in various plastics, which has been found to be an endocrine disruptor and leaches from the plastic into our bodies. It’s been used in baby bottles and nipples, sippy cups and other things tiny humans put in their mouths; polycarbonate water bottles (most now state BPA-free), the linings of many canned foods, some canned beverages and even reusable metal water bottles (Sigg anyone?); the lids of many food containers and more. The FDA is finally working to evaluate and address this. Countries like Canada have already banned from baby bottles.

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