Thursday, December 14, 2017

Prepping Uses for Trash & Plastic Shopping Bags

I've found so many uses for plastic bags over the years that they have become one of the things that I try to stockpile. I've seen the machinery required to make plastic bags, and that is a technology that takes a lot of infrastructure to sustain. Luckily, most plastic bags are still made from petroleum and they won't degrade or break down for decades, so supplies will last through short-term disasters.

Be sure to avoid the brands with insecticides and fragrances if you're going to use them for food, water, or close to your body, some of the chemicals they use are strong enough to make a person ill.

Here are a few of the uses I've found:

Trash Bags

Emergency Rain Gear
  • Cut or tear a hole in the bottom of a trash bag and pull the bag over your head to make a quick rain poncho. I've outfitted a whole pack of Scouts this way for less than $5.
  • Slogging through mud or rain? Put your feet inside a couple of bags and then put on your shoes/boots. Tie or tape the bags around your ankles and a few places up your leg and your feet will stay drier. Be aware, though, that since the bags are waterproof, they will also hold in the sweat from your feet, so you will eventually develop wet socks and possibly even a rash. Dry your feet and change your socks regularly!
  • Draping a trash bag over your pack will keep the contents dry. Lining the pack with a trash bag before you load it works better, but you have to watch for sharp edges as you pack it.

Vapor Barrier
  • If you are dealing with snow or heavy fog, putting a plastic bag between layers of clothes will keep the moisture from seeping through to your skin.
  • It was common to use plastic bread bags as a liner inside winter boots when I was a kid (a long time ago), and trash bags will work just as well or better.

Solar Still
  • Lokidude covered solar stills here. Having a plastic bag makes it easier to build one.
  • You can also wrap plastic around plants or tree branches and gather the water that evaporates off them during the day. 

Covering Holes
  • If you need to seal up a room to keep out dust, fallout, smoke, or fumes, a supply of trash bags and duct tape will make the job easier. I use industrial trash bags to seal up grain bins before fumigating them and they work great.
  • Broken windows are a common occurrence after strong winds (tornadoes, hurricanes, etc.) and tape and trash bags will cover any size of window.
  • If you use a window air conditioner, wrapping the outside of the unit in a plastic bag during the cold season is a good way to prevent drafts and conserve heat.

  • Slicing open a large trash bag will give you a sheet of plastic large enough to be used as a ground cloth under a sleeping bag. It won't last very long unless you use the heaviest bags available, but it will keep the dew from soaking your bag.
  • Placing a bag or two over the top of your sleeping bag will trap heat, but also moisture, so be sure to air out your bag every day. A quick way to stay warmer is to place the foot of your sleeping bag inside a large trash bag before you crawl in. It'll keep your feet warmer while having the top half of the bag exposed will let some of the humidity out.
  • If you're putting together a lean-to or debris hut, placing plastic bags on the roof will make it shed rain better. Bags added to the walls will cut the amount of wind that gets through.
  • Wrapping a plastic bag around you will trap some of your body heat and will keep the wind from carrying it away. It's not quite as good as a Space Blanket, but it'll do in a pinch.
  • Stuffing a couple of large bags full of leaves will make an insulating bed to keep you off of the ground and make sleep more comfortable. A bag stuffed full of clothes or leaves will also make a passable pillow, although you will probably want to cover it with a shirt as a pillowcase.
First Aid
  • Large plastic bags are handy for holding contaminated items, whether they be blood, body fluids, chemical contamination, or fallout.
  • Tie two opposing corners together and you have a make-shift sling for a broken arm.
  • Sucking chest wounds are one of the things covered in more advanced first-aid classes, and you need an air-tight material to seal them.

Plastic Shopping Bags
If you don't have trash bags handy, the ubiquitous grocery store bags are free and often pile up in kitchens. They are known as “T-shirt bags” because they resemble a sleeveless T-shirt (AKA wife beater) when they are flat. While not as large, they do have several uses for preppers.

  • Cutting a plastic bag into strips and twisting or weaving them together into twine is simple and makes a surprisingly strong cord. You can never have enough cordage.

First Aid
  • Like trash bags, grocery bags can be used to seal chest wounds and are also small enough to be twisted into something like rope that can be used as an emergency tourniquet.
  • Being smaller than trash bags, grocery bags are just right to use as air-sickness bags.
  • Filled with ice and tied shut, I've used plastic bags to take down the swelling from minor strains and sprains.

  • Using a plastic bag as a bucket liner is a simple way to create a portable toilet.
  • If you don't have gloves handy, putting a plastic bag over your hands will let you handle nasty things and keep your hands clean. Everybody that has had to pick up behind their dog knows this trick, but you can also use it for isolating yourself from blood-borne pathogens while rendering aid.

  • Keep wet clothes separate from dry ones in your pack by putting them in a plastic bag before stowing them. This is also a good idea for dirty or wet footwear inside a pack, although I prefer to use my boot laces to tie the spares to the outside of my pack so they can dry.
  • I've often put a bar of soap inside a plastic bag before sticking it back in my pack, just to keep it from getting into my food and all over my clothes.
  • Cutting strips of plastic off of a bag makes cheap, easily visible trail markers that can be tied to trees or fences. These strips are also handy for making quick field-expedient repairs (see cordage above).

Carrying Things
  • They are designed to carry stuff, so why not use them that way? If you're out foraging for food, a dozen plastic bags will fit in a pocket until needed.
  • If you're trading or bartering, having bags on hand makes carrying stuff home a lot easier.
  • If you are handing out supplies to people after a disaster, having the supplies prepackaged in plastic bags makes the process a lot smoother.
  • As long as there are no holes, you can carry a couple of quarts of water in a common bag. Double it up if you're worried about the weight tearing the seams.

Plastic bags are easy to find outside of California and have a long shelf-life and many uses, so why wouldn't you have a supply on hand? For those of you who live in areas that have banned the use of plastic bags, they are availableon Amazon if you want to thumb your nose at the busy-bodies who think they're in charge. $30 for a thousand is pretty cheap and should last a long time.

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