Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

In recent years, the issue of global warming and climate change has become ever more evident in our everyday lives.

Governments and local communities are trying to do more to live sustainably and to slow the tide of unwanted destruction to our planet.

Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

As individuals, one of the most effective things that we can do to help is to recycle.

Recycling what we already have not only prevents us from needing to produce and distribute so many disposable items, but it also prevents us from throwing these items into landfill sites and clogging our oceans with waste materials.

Plastic bags are one item that we have all been guilty of overusing. In fact, in the U.S. we go through around 380 billion of them a year!

We bag up our food at grocery stores each day without a thought for the amount of plastic we are using.

We then carry our items home and throw the plastic grocery bags away without a second thought for where they will end up.

This is something that desperately needs to change… But can plastic bags be recycled?

The short answer is yes, but not in your usual curbside recycling facilities.

In this article, we talk you through the process of responsibly recycling your plastic bags, as well as other tricky plastic items that you may be unsure of.

Recycling can only make a real difference when it is done properly.

What Are Plastic Bags?

A plastic bag is simply a thin sheet of either high-density polyethylene (HDPE, #2 plastic) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE, #4 plastic) that has been folded around its contents.

The plastic is made from crude oil that has been heated in a furnace and then distilled. It takes about 430,000 gallons of oil to produce 100 million plastic bags!

The most common type of plastic bag used today is the clear plastic shopping bag.

These bags are designed to hold small amounts of loose material such as groceries, clothing, and shoes.

We often refer to them as ‘single use’ plastic bags due to their flimsy, disposable design.

However, other plastic materials such as plastic wraps, frozen food bags, newspaper bags, ziploc bags, cereal bags, bread bags, and plastic film all also need to be treated in the same way.

Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

Yes! It is important to know that plastic bags, wraps, plastic film, bubble wrap, and other packaging materials made from low density polyethylene or high density polyethylene can be broken down into new materials and reused, however, the process is not a simple one. 

This type of plastic cannot be returned to its original state due to the complexity of its form.

However, they can be washed, shredded, and then melted into plastic pellets that can be used to make new things if they are taken to specialized recycling centers. 

Can Plastic Bags Go In The Curbside Recycling?

No. Plastic bags can very easily become tangled and jam the mechanisms at your local curbside recycling program.

If they are simply thrown in with all the other materials that are being recycled, they actually stand to do more harm than good and can slow down the recycling process, making life much more difficult for the workers who man the recycling machines.

Where Should You Take Used Plastic Bags To Be Recycled?

Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

Instead of throwing used grocery bags into the curbside recycling, these items should be taken to your local grocery stores where there will be a drop-off box specifically for the collection of plastic bags.

These collection bins are often located in the front entrance of the store as you walk in, and they are usually very clearly sign posted.

Walmart, Ikea, Whole Foods, and other huge chains all collect plastic bags for recycling.

The plastic bags are then taken to specialized recycling centers where the machines are designed to handle the materials without becoming mangled and jammed. 

Taking your plastic bags to the proper drop-off location at local retail stores will massively aid the effectiveness and efficiency of the recycling process in your area.

What Should You Do Before Recycling Plastic Bags?

If you want to ensure that your plastic bags are recycled correctly, there are some steps that need to be taken before you drop off your plastic bags at your local store collection bin:

1. Make sure that the plastic bags are clean. It is important that any dirt or grease is removed from the plastic bags prior to being placed in the recycling.

Bags do not need to be spotless, but food waste and food residue can contaminate the rest of the bags if it is not removed.

2. Remove any labels on the outside of the plastic bags. Labels can get caught up in the machinery and cause jams and delays during the recycling process.

3. Ensure that the plastic bags are empty. There is no point in taking full bags to the recycling point as they won’t be accepted.

What Can You Do To Reduce Your Plastic Waste?

One of the most effective things that you can do to reduce your plastic waste is to use reusable grocery bags rather than thin, single use bags.

Sure, it means remembering to take your bag with you each time you visit the store, but there are some simple steps you can take to encourage yourself to do so:

  • Placing your reusable grocery bag on the same hook as your coat is a really great idea because it means that you will remember to take it with you when you leave the house.
  • Keeping a couple of reusable grocery bags in your car trunk is a great way of ensuring that you always have some with you when you go to do a big shop.
  • Having a lightweight, foldable bag tucked away inside your handbag or backpack will mean that you don’t need to get a flimsy plastic bag when you decide to pick up a few items on a whim.
  • Using brown paper bags rather than plastic bags is a great idea, as long as you remember to recycle them by placing them in your household recycling bins or curbside recycling bins. 

Final Thoughts

We hope this article has helped you understand what you should do with your plastic bags after you’ve finished using them.

We also hope that it’s given you an understanding of how much plastic we’re actually creating every day and the great need there is to end our reliance on disposable products in favor of reusable alternatives.

Jenna Bates
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