Can You Recycle Plastic Bags? – Recycling Tips

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 at times, 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 the questions 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 just 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 end up doing more harm than good.

Whenever you try to recycle items that you shouldn’t, it actually harms recycling. These unsuitable items can slow down the system to the point where recyclers are spending more time sorting items thus making less profit recycling correct materials, and 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 in recycling hard materials such as cans, bottles and paper products, but plastic bags need to be kept away from curbside collection and recycled elsewhere. This is because the 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 simply 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 all provide a place to recycle your plastic bags, with deposit points usually located at the front of the store. Many smaller retails 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 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 bag for purchases that are easy to carry

Read on: Bioplastics – How Green and Sustainable are They

Avoiding the use of 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 produce we buy that use plastic bags, it is important to keep in mind the best way to recycle plastic bags and packaging afterwards.

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