The Great Plastic Bag Debacle

Face blurred out to protect the cheap.

Not too long ago M and I were walking through our favourite shopping district—aka the back lanes of East Vancouver—when he spied a cardboard box sitting on top of a dumpster. Naturally he went to investigate, and found it filled with about 200 extra-large black garbage bags. He was really excited about them and wanted to take them home. Despite that our garbage can took bags about one quarter of the size, the prospect of never having to pay for garbage bags again was just too good to pass up.

But we were on our way someplace and wouldn’t be heading home for a couple of hours at least. So he scoured the lane for a hiding place, finally settling on a clump of scrubby bushes that had grown out from under someone’s fence. M put the box underneath the bushes and arranged the branches over it, making sure that the box was completely hidden. When we went to retrieve the bags, they were still there, and M gleefully carried them home.

We stored the bags in a plastic tub under the sink. Meanwhile, there was a leak in the pipe and water kept dripping into the tub. Not clueing in that sink water dripping from the U-trap could possibly have any negative consequences, we gave the bags a swipe with a cloth now and then, till eventually our landlord came and repaired the leak.

But about a month or so later, we noticed this god-awful stench wafting from the kitchen. We checked the garbage, but that wasn’t it. We thought maybe a mouse had died behind the stove—we found two dead ones in different states of decomposition last year, and the smell was enough to knock you over—but a quick look revealed no little half-rotted carcasses.

Then it hit us that it might be the garbage bags. Sure enough, every single one was covered in a fine layer of mould. The smell was enough to want to make you stuff an entire roll of toilet paper up your nose. I guess that’s what happens when millions of tiny pieces of wet food are allowed to simmer and stew in a plastic tub over a number of weeks (or was it months?). The sensible—and sane—thing to do would have been to throw those bags out. But our inherent sense of cheapness, coupled with my eco-guilt, refused to allow us to do that.

Don’t Get Mad! Get Glad!

So instead, we carted them off to the bathroom and ran a nice bath for them. One by one, we lathered and soaped those bags like they were beloved pets or delicate sweaters that required handwashing. We still had 180 of them easily, and it took approximately forever to wash them all. Then we had to hang them to dry. There were bags hanging over the shower curtain rod, on the towel racks, on a drying rack brought in especially for the purpose, over the backs of a couple chairs and over the bathroom door. Once they were dry, we folded all 180 bags again, stacked them up, and put them back under the sink and into the tub. Where they remain to this day.

You see, not long after, we were hit with a nasty fly infestation, so we stopped putting our wet garbage under the sink and began keeping it in the freezer. This required using smaller bags, so we switched to grocery store bags (yes, yes, no matter how often I bring my own bag shopping, I still end up with a pail full of plastic bags).  But we still keep the big black bags. They make good drop cloths when I’m doing small paint jobs or repotting plants. M uses them to stuff his old clothes into when it’s time to make a donation to the clothing bin across the street. He uses one as a storage bag for his summer clothes (he calls them his “cabana wear”) during the winter months. So with this in mind, and considering that the drop cloths can be used over and over, we probably still have, oh, at least 150 of these suckers. With the way things are going, we may use them up by the year 2050. Maybe.

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