Sustainability made simple

Why You Can’t Recycle Plastic Bags Curbside

recycle plastic bag
Photo: CC0 Public Domain / Unsplash – Morgan Vander

Figuring out what can and cannot be recycled in your home can be a little daunting sometimes, but it is certainly not a lost cause. By keeping in mind a few simple steps, you can do your part in living a little more sustainably. In this article, we answer whether you can recycle plastic bags and where.

The US recycling system — while being both widespread and generally effective — is not a magical cure-all where you can leave anything out for curbside recycling and expect it to be processed accordingly. If you are not mindful of what can and cannot be recycled, you might do more harm than good.

Whenever you try to recycle items that you shouldn’t, it harms recycling. These unsuitable items can slow down the system to the point where recyclers spend more time sorting items, thus making less profit in recycling the correct materials. Workers can be exposed to unnecessary danger when handling hazardous materials or repairing damaged recycling equipment.

Overall, these items can greatly hinder recycling facility operations, reducing the amount of material that can be processed by a facility each day. Plastic bags are one such item that should never be placed in your curbside recycling.

Why You Can’t Recycle Plastic Bags Curbside

Curbside recycling does a good job of recycling hard materials such as cans, bottles and paper products. However, plastic bags need to be kept away from curbside collection and recycled elsewhere. This is because plastic bags can jam and even damage the machinery used in recycling plants, thus slowing down processing and making the entire exercise more costly and time-consuming.

Not only that, these plastic bags will then be thrown into landfill or incinerated. A store drop-off to recycle plastic bags is, therefore, the best way to go.

Where To Recycle Plastic Bags / Finding a Drop-off Location

In the US, there are plenty of easy ways to find out where to recycle plastic bags.

Big names like Kroger, Safeway, Target and Walmart provide a place to recycle your plastic bags, with deposit points usually located at the front of the store. Many smaller retail providers are now starting to follow suit. But if you are still having trouble locating one close to you, websites such as: How2Recycle can help you out with where you can recycle plastic bags in your local area.

14 Items You Should Not Recycle Curbside

Aside from pizza boxes and multi-layer bags, pouches and wrappers such as potato chip bags, avoid placing in your curbside recycling items like:

  • batteries
  • chemicals
  • oils
  • diapers
  • electronics
  • food-soiled recyclables
  • food
  • propane cylinders
  • ceramics
  • furniture
  • wood
  • light bulbs
  • window panes
  • drinking glasses

A good rule of thumb is: ‘If in doubt, leave it out!’

Three Habits to Help Reduce the Need for Plastic Bags

  1. Reuse plastic bags & wrapping
  2. Take your own textile bags or containers for purchased goods
  3. Refuse a plastic bags for purchases that are easy to carry

Avoiding plastic bags at the store would be easiest by simply taking your own textile bags for carrying goods home. But considering the unavoidable amounts of products we buy that use plastic bags, it is important to consider the best way to recycle plastic bags and packaging afterward.

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