Heavy-duty plastic bags, like those meant for trash and yard debris, can be used in a surprisingly wide variety of ways to help ensure your survival during a disaster situation like an earthquake, hurricane, or even Zombie outbreak. These light-weight, extremely low cost, readily available, and incredibly versatile tools should be in every B.O.B. and E-kit.
We’ve listed a few of our favorite survival uses for plastic bags, but keep in mind that this everyday item is only limited by your imagination… and whether or not you happen to have a few on hand.
MEDICAL: While it might be the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a trash bag or yard debris bag; a clean, unused bag can be used for a wide variety of medical purposes.
Waterproof bandages – After applying the appropriate bandage to a wound, place a layer of plastic bag over the bandage to protect it from outside moisture and contamination. Secure the protective covering properly, and remove and change the bandage and covering as needed.
Fight hypothermia – The potentially deadly effects of hypothermia can be battled by utilizing a large plastic bag as a “hot box” or additional layer to trap heat next to the body. Simply cut a hole for your head (and arms if needed), and wear the bag as a pullover. You can also simply drape the bag over your body, as you might a survival blanket.
Cold Compress – Fill with snow, ice, or cold water. Fold or tie off bag and apply as needed.
Handle medical waste – Plastic bags can be utilized as gloves for handling medical waste and contaminates such as blood, organs, vomit, and fecal matter… though we’re not sure why you’d handle the last two, unless you’re cleaning up a mess. Check the bag for punctures and/or rips BEFORE you try them on as gloves.
Tourniquet – Like many other flexible materials, large plastic bags can be used as a makeshift tourniquet. While it wont be the best thing for long term use, it can make a world of difference for the short run… remember it’s all about surviving the moment, you can worry about the long-term later.
Sling – Plastic bags can be used to support and immobilize a broken or wounded arm.
WATER: Containers come in handy when you need to collect, transport, and/or treat water, but there’s even more that you can use them for when it comes to water.
Collection/Storage – Lining a trash can, hole in the ground, or other receptacle with a clean plastic bag makes the collection of rainwater safer than simply letting it fill into a potentially contaminated container. Plastic bags can also be used as scoops for collecting water from pools, streams, and other bodies of water.
Solar Still – Fully enclose the leafy green area of a tree branch, securing the plastic bag tightly at the opening. Let it sit in the sun for a few hours as the condensation builds within the bag . Carefully remove the bag when ready, and repeat the process as needed. This method doesn’t typically result in large amounts of liquid, but every little bit counts… especially during a survival situation.
Transport – Creating a sturdy double walled bag for transporting water can be done in just a few steps. Cut or tear open the sealed end of a plastic bag so you are left with a tube. Twist or tie a knot in the center of the bag so you are left with two open ends and a shape like an hourglass. Fold one side over the other and you’re left with a double walled water carrying device.
Filter/Purify – Water isn’t any good to you if it isn’t safe to drink, but a simple plastic bag can go a long way to making water potable. Learn other important tips and tricks for water filtration and purification here: H20 (Water).
Gravity Filter – Gravity filters are simple multi-layer systems that remove the majority of contaminates, and you can easily make one at home. Double wall a plastic bag as seen in the WATER: Transportation portion of this article. Cut a small “spout” hole into the lowest point possible, without destroying the integrity of the bag too much. Reinforce the spout with a bit of duct tape so it doesn’t split when filled. Next, place a coffee filter, bandana, or similar cloth or material for filtering inside the bag and up against the spout. Then carefully pack and layer the following materials into the lower portion of the bag: 2″-3″ finely crushed charcoal, 2″ fine sand, 1″ small stones, 1″fine sand, and 1″ moss, grass, or other porous material. Gently fill the bag with water, tie a knot into the top, hang it up, and allow it to do the job.
Solar Treatment / SODIS – This can be a fairly unpredictable method for treating water, especially during cloudy or winter weather, but when done properly, it can work like a charm. The SODIS method relies on the power of solar rays to purify water; this is only helpful if larger contaminates have first been removed with basic filtration methods like the one listed above. Utilizing a large plastic bag for this method should be a last resort, as not all bags are made from food grade materials. This method is only effective when using CLEAR plastic, tinted or colored materials will not work.
Solar Shower – Fill a darkly colored plastic bag with water, hang it above head height, let it sit in the sun for a bit to warm up, poke a couple of small holes in the bottom, and enjoy a nice warm shower.
FOOD: Collecting, capturing, and storing food can be difficult during a survival situation, but a trash bag can make the task a whole lot easier.
Collection – Whether you’re raiding the wilds, a nearby farm, or grocery store, containers come in handy… and that’s just what a trash bag is, a container. No matter what you find or where you find it, you’ll need a way to carry your collected goods.
Storage – Just like with water, lining a trash can, hole in the ground, or other receptacle with a clean plastic bag makes the storage of food much safer than placing it into a potentially contaminated or uncovered container. Plastic bags can be sealed by twisting the top and adding a bit of cordage, or simply by tying a knot in the top of the bag itself.
In addition to being a great lightweight container for food items, plastic bags can be tied and hung away from the ground and the prying hands of Zombies, other survivors, and wild animals. A well-sealed bag can offer the advantage of a longer shelf-life of some foods… as long as you store it in a cool dry place.
Trapping – Set them as netting for bugs and fish, or use them as sacks to quickly and more easily bag a bird, squirrel, or other small animal that lends itself to capture.
SHELTER: From additional security to being used as shelters themselves, heavy-duty plastic bags can be utilized in a number of ways when it comes to provide protection from the elements and the undead.
Tarp Tent – Just like an emergency blanket, poncho, or tarp, a plastic bag can be used to create basic Tarp Tent style shelters and protective covers. Cutting the bag down the length of one side, and slicing it along the bottom, can double the square feet of material available for your shelter or cover. Make sure to carry a bit of paracord with you to help when securing your shelter.
Tube Tent – Tear or cut open the sealed end of a large plastic bag, duct tape the tube to another bag, slide yourself inside, and rest well. The ambient heat from your body will build and help to keep your body warm… even in wet and windy weather.
Ground Cover – This one is as simple as it sounds, but it’s important too… especially when you’re sleeping in the wild. Keeping your body away from moisture and the cold of the ground can greatly increase your chances of survival.
Window Black Out – Just because you’re home doesn’t mean you have to look like you are. Blacking out your windows is an important step to ensuring you aren’t hassled by outsiders or spotted by Zombies in a post apocalyptic world. Covering your windows with black trash bags can keep the light from getting out, and you from being seen.
Quarantine – Duct tape and plastic bags can be used to create a fairly effective quarantine area, whether at home or in the field. Simply seal off an area with the bags and duct tape, and make sure it isn’t breached. You’ll need to fully cover any potential areas of transmission, such as heating vents, windows, doorways, etc.
GEAR/OTHER: Beyond water and food collection, medical assistance, and shelter; plastic trash bags can be utilized as a substitute for many types of gear.
Rain Poncho – The only downside to wearing a plastic bag as a rain poncho is that they don’t breathe. This means that while it will hold the rain and snow out, it will also hold your sweat in. Pay close attention to your body temperature and water-loss when wearing a non-permeable covering like this.
Gear Bag / Dry Bag– Twist the bag a few times just above the line of the gear inside. Fold the excess over top of the bag and carry it upside down. This should create a relatively water-tight seal that still allows for somewhat easy access to important gear and supplies.
Water-proof Boots/Gaiters – Applied over boots, and even bare or minimally covered feet, plastic bags make an excellent material for water-proofing and protection from the elements. They can also be wrapped around the shins or legs as makeshift gaiters for travel through swampy or other exceedingly wet areas.
Flotation Device – Filled with air and twisted shut, heavy-duty trash bags are extremely lightweight and buoyant. They can be used to assist in crossing deep water by simply being held onto, or they can be applied to a raft or other flotation device.
Sleeping Bag / Mattress – Similar to being used as a Tube Tent, large plastic bags make great sleeping bags when stuff with materials like leaves, fabric, stuffing, packing peanuts, etc. Fill the bag as full as possible and crawl in, or use it as a sleeping surface for the night. Not only will this method protect you from the cold, it will help to keep away potential contaminates as well.
Washing Machine – Placing garments into a plastic bag that has been partially filled with water and soap, can actually make a world of difference when attempting to get your clothes clean. Once everything is in there, just jostle it around, empty it out, rinse your clothing, and hang them to dry. Remember, proper hygiene can go a long way to keeping you alive.
Restroom – Sometimes the plumbing goes out, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to use the bathroom. Placed into a drained toilet or into a 5 gallon bucket, plastic bags can make dealing with waste, a much cleaner and easier process. These can also be used to line latrines when you’re worried about contaminating a nearby water source.
OTHER MISC USES: Creating smoke for signal fires, lashing, patches for clothing and other gear, And of course… collecting and removing refuse, among about a million other uses.
Because not all trash bags are made with the intent of heavy-duty use, it’s a good idea to grab a few construction grade bags from your local hardware store or garden center. Keep a few on hand in your Bug Out Bag and E-kits and utilize them as needed… though we hope you never have to.