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There’s a shelf in my kitchen that I absolutely hate opening. It’s the one in which I’ve stuffed every plastic grocery bag I have ever allowed myself to accept, and have saved in hopes of reuse. They’re all shoved haphazardly in, door closed tight on them—because when they’re out of mind, so is my guilt.
But every now and then, I am forced to pull out a bag to shove into my pocket when I do a milk run or go to the fishmonger or need one to line our trash cans. When I do open it, I regret it almost immediately. They all come tumbling out: a tangled spectrum of sizes, colors, and microns.
I am not alone. Assistant Editor Caroline Mullen shoves her bags under the sink, and has to wade through them regularly to get to her cleaning supplies. ““Every time I reach for the dishwasher detergent I'm assaulted by them," she says.
Single-use plastic bags, of course, come with a steep environmental price. According to an NRDC report, Americans go through roughly 100 billion plastic shopping bags every year, that all end up clogging our waste streams. In response, to date, more than 400 laws and ordinances across the US have tackled a ban or tax plastic bags. On March 2nd, New York State will follow California's example with a state-wide ban on them. A move that couldn't come any sooner.
But what of all the ones still in circulation that we need to reuse over and over again to assuage our collective guilt? And how does one organize them?
Some sleuthing around on the internet revealed that others struggle with the same problem (“Can’t stand even opening my carrier bag draw”) but also that there are plenty of DIY-ers with solutions like stuffing them into a dispenser and making giant rolls of them. Most recently, this cleaning whiz came up with an elegant solution, by turning them into the neatest little triangles—I may have squealed with delight as I watched her do it.
On closer look though, I realized that this technique only works with (plastic) shopping bags with handles that are separate from the body of the bag. Most of mine are just plain ol’ produce bags.
Enter Coral Lee, Food52 recipe developer and associate editor, to the rescue. Coral worked at Chikalicious, a Japanese pastry shop, a few moons ago, and had learned a nifty trick to store away space-gobbling plastic bags. “We were a lean team of three, so we had no room for fruit that would not become ice cream that same day, let alone wild nests of plastic bags.” This folding trick, she said, kept bags untangled, out of the way, and “immediately grabbable.”
Want in on the trick? Here’s a step-by-step:
Start by un-creasing the bag—using your palms to stretch them out—as much as possible, spreading it flat out on a counter. Then, starting with one long edge, fold inwards, tucking the long strip tightly over itself. Try to make each fold as neat and narrow as possible!
Keep going until you reach the very end of the bag, so that all you have left is a slim strip folded lengthwise.
Starting from the bottom right of the strip, fold the corner towards the left, creating a small triangle. Continue folding this triangle upwards and over itself, the triangle getting thicker with each fold. (See this technique in action towards another use in a recent episode of Dear Test Kitchen.)
Fold the triangle almost right up to the end of the strip, leaving only about two inches (what should be the handles) up at the top.
Fold the free end (the handles) around the triangle and tuck it neatly into the cavity created by the triangle. Ta-da!
Side-note: As cute as this all is, we hope this is going to be a hack you’ll need less and less as we all accept fewer plastic bags—and that stash of bags in your cupboard slowly disappears.
How do you store your plastic bags? Tell us in the comments below!