It’s easy to quickly accumulate plastic bags. You get one every time you go the grocery store, run to the gas station, or stop for some takeout. As much as you try to reuse them, you’ve probably wondered if you can put them in your recycling bin to get rid of your stash.

The answer is a bit more involved than you might think! Let’s take a closer look at whether plastic bags should be recycled.

Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

Plastic bags that you get at the grocery store shouldn’t be put in your recycling bin. The same is true for any thin, flexible bag made from plastic. The reason is because they are usually made from either high-density polyethylene or low-density polyethylene. Both of these types of plastic are tricky to recycle because they are so lightweight and flexible that they end up getting caught in the recycling equipment!

Your best option is to bring your plastic bags to a store’s drop-off recycling center if they have one. These are usually in the lobby of supermarkets like Walmart, Jewel-Osco, and Target. Stores that offer these drop-off services bring them to specialized recycling centers where they have the right equipment to recycle the bags.

Tip

You don’t need to bring plastic grocery bags back to the exact store where you received them. Search your zip code in this store drop-off locator to find a location near you!

How Do You Dispose of Plastic Bags?

You can dispose of plastic bags by bringing them to a store drop-off location. You can also repurpose these bags by using them as garbage can liners or as packing material when moving.

Your options are a bit limited when it comes to disposing of plastic bags. It can be difficult to figure out what you should do with the stash that’s accumulating under your kitchen sink!

Here’s an easy chart that can help you figure out the best course of action:

Do:

  • Bring unwanted plastic grocery bags to store drop-off locations for proper recycling.
  • Reuse plastic bags for other needs like trash can liners or packing material.
  • Call your local waste management facility to check which plastics they can recycle.

Don’t:

  • Put plastic bags in your regular recycling bin.
  • Bag your recyclables in a plastic bag.
  • Put dirty plastic that has food remnants in your recycle bin.

Plastic in general can be tricky to recycle, but it’s worth taking the time to learn the do’s and don’ts. The last thing you want is to hurt the environment, so be sure to keep these tips in mind next time you head for the recycling bin!

Other plastic bags like newspaper bags or Ziploc bags shouldn’t be put in your recycle bin. Check your store drop-off centers to see if they accept these types of plastic!

What Happens to Recycled Plastic Bags?

Recycled plastic bags usually get melted down so they can be made into new plastic bags. This reduces the impact on the environment because manufacturers don’t need to use new plastic to create a bag.

After they’re recycled, plastic bags can be converted into outdoor furniture. The most common items are:

  • Decks
  • Park benches
  • Picnic tables
  • Fences

Decks

If they’re not melted down into new bags, most recycled plastic bags eventually become outdoor decks! The bags are broken down and eventually turned into composite lumber. This type of wood is perfect for outdoor projects like decks because the wood is resistant to moisture.

Park Benches

You’ve probably never realized the park benches you sit on while fishing or tying your shoe once started out as plastic bags. Composite lumber is the best choice for outdoor furniture like this.

Picnic Tables

Since picnic tables sit outside and get exposed to all kinds of weather, they’re usually made from composite lumber. No one wants a broken, rotten picnic table!

Fences

If you’re building a fence, it’s important to choose a type of wood that won’t easily deteriorate when it gets rained or snowed on. Composite lumber made from recycled plastic bags is a great choice because it’s moisture resistant.

It may seem like a lot of effort to bring your plastic bags to a recycle center, but it’s worth it! Simply tossing the bags into your trash causes pollution and has a huge impact on our landfills. Since 200,000 plastic bags are dumped in landfills every hour, it’s best to take the extra step to make sure your plastic bags are disposed of properly.

One of the first companies to convert plastic bags into composite lumber was MoistureShield. In 2019 alone, their facility transformed over 2.7 million pounds of plastic bags into usable material!

How to Reuse Plastic Bags

The best way to reuse plastic bags is to use them as garbage can liners. By repurposing them in this way, you’re lessening the impact on the environment because you’re not purchasing more plastic garbage can liners in addition to disposing of the grocery bags you already have.

You can also repurpose your plastic bags in the following ways:

Protect Your Plants

Is there a sudden snowstorm coming your way? Try placing a plastic grocery bag over the top of your outdoor potted plants. It will help protect their leaves and petals from the bitter frost so they can bloom in the summertime!

Source: www.lifehacker.com

Use as Packing Material

If you’re moving, try wrapping your fragile items in plastic grocery bags as an extra layer of protection. You’d be surprised how much this will help prevent your items from damage!

Source: www.lansdownelife.com

Line a Paint Tray

Painting is messy! Make it easier on yourself by lining your paint tray with a plastic grocery bag. You can pour the paint right on top so you can stick your roller or brush in the paint without having to worry about cleanup.

Use for Pet Waste

Sick of spending money on pet waste bags? Try using plastic grocery bags instead! It will prevent you from having to go out and spend money on more plastic, and it will get the job done.

Stuff Patio Pillows

Patio furniture is great, but it can be annoying to dry everything out after it rains. Consider stuffing your patio pillows with plastic bags so they dry easier after a storm!

Car Waste Basket

Cars fill up with trash quickly if you’re not careful. Try sticking a plastic grocery bag in your door compartments so people can put their gum wrappers or disposable cups in there. You can empty the bags when they get full!

evanscycles.com

Shoe Protectors

Are you about to mow your lawn, but don’t want to ruin your white sneakers? Tie a plastic grocery bag around each foot. You’ll keep your shoes clean, and if the grass is wet, it will prevent your feet from getting wet as well!

Can Potato Chip Bags Be Recycled?

Surprisingly, most potato chip bags cannot be put in your recycle bin. They usually have a shiny aluminum lining on the inside of the bag which is not recyclable. Since recycle equipment can’t separate that layer from the plastic part of the bag, you shouldn’t recycle them.

Not all hope is lost, though! Terracycle, a recycling advocate, partnered with Sensible Portions® to offer a recycling program for their snack bags. All you need to do is sign up for the program online, put your cleaned bags in a box, print a shipping label from their website, and send the bags to the facility!

Source: officesupplycom

Recycling Plastic Bags During COVID-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, protocols surrounding plastic bag recycling have changed dramatically. In the interest of health, stores have stopped accepting recycled bags.

There is a concern that the bags could potentially carry the virus, and the stores don’t want to worsen the health of employees. It’s recommended that you store your plastic bags in your home until the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announce that it is safe for stores to resume their bag recycle programs.

The Bottom Line

When in doubt about plastic recycling, always consult your local waste manufacturing facility. They’ll be able to let you know which products they can recycle and which ones you should repurpose for other projects. The good news is there are plenty of solutions no matter which route you need to take!

References

Heaton, E. (2014, June 06). No-cost paint tray liner: Use a plastic shopping bag. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from
https://www.lansdownelife.com/2011/09/no-cost-paint-tray-liner-use-plastic.html

How2Recycle. (n.d.). Retrieved June 8, 2020, from
https://how2recycle.info/

Lloyd, C. (2013, June 24). Use Plastic Grocery Bags to Pack Away Fragile Items. Retrieved June 10, 2020, from
https://lifehacker.com/use-plastic-grocery-bags-to-pack-away-fragile-items-5920032

Potato Chip & Snack Bags – Truckee Recycling Guide. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from
https://www.keeptruckeegreen.org/recyclable/potato-chip-snack-bags/

Sensible Portions Veggie Straws, Sea Salt, 1 oz Bag, 8 Bags/Carton. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from
https://www.officesupply.com/cleaning-breakroom/breakroom-supplies/foods-beverages/snacks/sensible-portions-veggie-straws-salt-bags-carton/p545458.html?ref=pla

The best winter cycling shoes and other top tips for warmer feet on the bike. (2017, November 17). Retrieved June 10, 2020, from
https://www.evanscycles.com

200,000 plastic bags dumped in landfill every hour. (n.d.). Retrieved June 12, 2020, from
https://www.1millionwomen.com.au/blog/200000-plastic-bags-dumped-in-landfill-every-hour/

About the author

Kelsey Skager

Kelsey is a master of promotional products with over five years of marketing and industry experience. She is proud to have been featured on ABC 7 Chicago News and NPR.