DIY Home

A Neat Folding Trick for Storing Plastic Grocery Bags—So You Can Actually Reuse Them

Somehow in life, we end up with a mountain of plastic grocery bags. Here’s how to bring order to that mess.

February 26, 2020
Photo by Rocky Luten

Home is the place we feel the most like ourselves—where we kick off our shoes, share our meals, and make memories. We're taking our love for all things home and bringing it to Instagram. Follow along at Home52 and make yourselves—well, you know.


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.”

A space-saving plastic bag trick, courtesy a Japanese dessert bar.

Want in on the trick? Here’s a step-by-step:


How to fold a plastic bag into perfect, tiny triangles

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!

Join the Conversation

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Iris WhiteLarkin
    Iris WhiteLarkin
  • B L
    B L
  • mdelgatty
    mdelgatty
  • Raniss
    Raniss
  • TJ
    TJ
Comment
Arati Menon

Written by: Arati Menon

Arati grew up hanging off the petticoat-tails of three generations of Indian matriarchs who used food to speak their language of love—and she finds herself instinctually following suit. Life has taken her all across the world, but she carries with her a menagerie of inherited home and kitchen objects that serve as her anchor. Formerly at GQ and Architectural Digest, she's now based in Brooklyn.

29 Comments

Iris W. March 8, 2020
I bought a Collapsible storage box and put my bags in the back of my car so I just have to remember to take them in the store also I have glass containers I take for leftovers
 
B L. March 6, 2020
Plastic bags are actually great for the environment. Denmark's Environmental Protection Agency's latest study of plastic grocery bags (titled "Life Cycle Assessment of grocery carrier bags"), compared the pollution impact of plastic bags to other bags available. In particular, unbleached cotton grocery bags, so favoured among environmentalists was compared. Their findings? You would have to use a cotton grocery bag up to 20,000 times to equal the same environmental impact of using plastic bags. If you used that bag twice each week, you'd have to live to 200 years old to have any positive environmental impact!
The study can be found here:
https://www2.mst.dk/Udgiv/publications/2018/02/978-87-93614-73-4.pdf
( on page 17)
 
mdelgatty March 5, 2020
Good lord; cute maybe, but what a lot of unnecessary work! Just grab the bag by one bottom corner and twist it tightly around your fingers. They may uncoil, but they won't reinflate. Stick in some kind of contained space - I made one out of a plastic pail under my sink.
 
Raniss March 5, 2020
Folding plastic bags into triangles is a very Asian thing to do. My Thai mom taught me to store them that way years ago.
 
TJ March 5, 2020
1 empty tissue box stuffed with plastic bags = neatness. They pop out just like tissues and can be tucked away in the kitchen, bathroom or wherever you use these.
 
Mary-Ann March 5, 2020
My sisters and I have been folding plastic bags this way for decades! It’s so easy to tuck A few into a pocket when we take the dog for a walk too!
 
ingrid March 5, 2020
I just stuff them into a cute cotton storage bag with elastics on either end that I bought in Provence years ago. When I need one for the compost bucket or otherwise, I am able to just pull one out without elaborate prep prior to putting them into the bag. It hangs in my pantry and I put the handled ones in the bottom and those without, in the top.
 
Patsy March 5, 2020
My mother taught me to smooth the bag out from bottom to top then gather it in the middle and tie it in a loose rosette. Much faster than folding and they actually are heavier when tied so I just pop them all in a handled bag under the sink!! Easy to grab just one!
 
Scott S. March 5, 2020
If I recall my high school flag folding duty, this method is the same as that process!
 
Susan March 2, 2020
Brillant solution Mary! Efficient all around!
 
Mary S. March 2, 2020
I stuff them into an empty paper towel tube.
 
Susan March 2, 2020
I cannot imagine spending that much time folding my bags into these gorgeous little parcels, ever. I would just as soon use my time cooking anything!
 
Babyrose March 2, 2020
There is a faster method, just do a quick roll along the long edge then wrap it around your fingers until you have a tail left about 3 inches long. Tuck the tail into the center as you remove it from your fingers. It takes less than 30 seconds, I timed it.
 
Gloria March 3, 2020
I have been folding my bags like this for years. After folding them into the strips, I now fold them in half then again in half first and it goes faster.
 
Carmen B. February 29, 2020
I cut them into strikes, join them & crochet them into rugs, mats for the homeless or swim bags for my grandchildren.
 
Carmen B. February 29, 2020
“Strips”
 
Claudia T. February 28, 2020
I do this too, a habit I picked up from my very clean mom! This is also how I make sure my bags don't have holes in them.
Make sure you start from the closed end and work towards the handles, otherwise you'll get a big bubble in your bag!
This football shape also makes it easier to throw in the car for quick cleanups, or stash in a purse, or have a small pile at the bottom of the wastebasket, under the bag in use- then when you take the trash out, you have new bags ready to go.
 
Mar February 28, 2020
Too much work! I just keep them all in another grocery bag hung on the cabinet door - we call it the “bag o’ bags”. If too many collect, we bring them to the grocery store’s stretch plastic recycling bin
 
Author Comment
Arati M. February 28, 2020
You're right, but for me it was also sort of therapeutic to fold, kinda like origami! But hey, the bag o' bags sounds like it works for you :)
 
Shari February 27, 2020
This is the exact technique we'd use as kids to pass notes in class. ;) Glad it has a more productive use. :D
 
Author Comment
Arati M. February 28, 2020
:) :) :)
 
Eddhee February 27, 2020
I thought I was the only one that does this. I have a spot in my kitchen for all my folded grocery bags.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. February 27, 2020
Where were you when we needed you, Eddhee? :)
 
Sea February 27, 2020
My friend used to do this. It's very smart. anyway, thank for your post. I'm looking for your next post
 
Author Comment
Arati M. February 27, 2020
This is going to be my weekend project this weekend. Join me!
 
Babyrose February 26, 2020
That's the way I've been folding them for years. I separate the regular size bags and keep the majority- saved for possible ban - the larger ones are folded the same way and stored in a plastic bin. We reuse them for garbage, since we are so rural there is no trash collection, we drive it about 6 miles once a week. I rarely use purchased trash bags. The bans are ignorant, go after the litterers, not those who need them.
 
HS March 5, 2020
Ditto. I reuse them for trash bags and dog poop bags (produce bags work especially well for this). I don't want to spend money buying either type of bag!
 
Tomoose February 26, 2020
My aunt showed me how to do this years ago & it was the best thing ever! The only difference is she folds the bag in half lengthwise & then once more instead of tucking the long strip tightly over itself a bunch of times. You don't want to fold it too small since it's harder to fold into the triangle. Also, folding it twice is quicker & makes it to perfect size to find in your bag.
 
Author Comment
Arati M. February 26, 2020
Thanks for sharing. I'm going to try your aunt's method as well!