Many Canadians drink milk that comes in 1.3-litre plastic bags. This is a foreign concept for Americans, who find it simultaneously amusing and unbelievable, but it’s true. Walk into any store in Ontario, Quebec, and the Maritime provinces (it’s less common in western Canada), and you’ll find hefty plastic outer bags containing three smaller milk-filled bags. Take it home, stick one bag in a milk jug, snip off the corner, and pour carefully.
“Today you can’t find a young Ontarian who remembers that unhappy time when you risked a shoulder injury trying to get a drop of milk out of a 3-quart jug.”
Milk bags are a mixed blessing. On one hand, they’re good because bags use 75 percent less plastic than milk jugs, which are shredded and recycled after a single use, rather than being reused. As The Star reported a few years ago: “What killed the returnable jug system was your uncle’s habit of storing gas or weed killer in it before returning it for washing and reuse.” Um, yeah.
Bags are annoying as heck, though, because they pile up and are not recyclable. (I sometimes purchase organic milk in reusable glass bottles, but the price comparison is staggering -- $6.99 per litre in glass vs. $2.50 per litre in plastic. Non-organic milk is half that price.) While I much prefer reusable containers and glass jars, I’ve figured out lots of ways to reuse washed milk bags, making sandwich or Ziploc bags completely redundant.
Here are some ideas for you to try:
1. Milk bags are great for packing lunches. Since the bags are so strong, they’ll last for months. Wash in hot soapy water and stand upright to dry.
2. Use milk bags to portion out meat, vegetables, and fruit for freezing.
3. Milk bags are sturdy enough to freeze liquids, i.e. homemade stock, soup, puréed fruit, baby food, etc. They will thaw quickly in a bowl of hot water.
4. Use a milk bag in place of an icing bag. Fill with icing, snip a tiny hole in the corner, and start decorating cookies or cakes.
5. Milk bags work as makeshift rubber gloves. I slip one over my hand when handling batches of spicy kimchi, or when I’m cleaning something icky.
6. Turn a milk bag into a grow bag for small hanging plants. Be sure to perforate the bottom to get good drainage.
7. Use a milk bag to transport a damp, soapy washcloth while travelling so you don’t need to use disposable wipes or paper towels. I do this for cloth diaper changes on the go.
8. A milk bag can provide waterproof storage for small items and electronics while camping. Keep your camera or phone in a milk bag if you’re hiking in the rain.
9. Take clean milk bags to the grocery store and use them for small produce items like bunches of parsley and cilantro, green onions, snow peas, and limes.
10. Use old milk bags to pick up dog poop.
11. Turn a milk bag into a mess-free insect catcher. Lower it over any unwanted flies or bees in your house, which will fly upward and you can close the bottom quickly. Release outside.
Do you have any additional uses for old milk bags?
Here's a good video explanation of how milk bags work.