Can I Recycle Plastic Shopping Bags?
Everyone knows that reusable shopping bags are a great way to cut down on waste and help the environment. Currently there are eight US states that have a plastic shopping bag ban in place. California was the first state to pass legislation to ban single use plastic bags at large retailers in August of 2014. Since then, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, New York, Oregon, and Vermont have also enacted legislation to ban plastic bag use. Thicker plastic shopping bags are still available at most retailers and these are indeed recyclable, however it is important to realize they cannot usually be recycled curbside. The short answer is…no, plastic shopping bags cannot be recycled in your curbside programs; however, they can and should be recycled with a tiny bit of effort on your part.
Where to Take Plastic Bags for Recycling
Most retail and grocery plastic bags are #2 (High-Density Polyethylene – HDPE) or #4 (Low-Density Polyethylene – LDPE) plastic. These are both easily recyclable and there are many places they can be dropped for recycling. If they don’t have the #2 or #4 on them, you can’t be certain what type of plastic resin they are comprised of and you will need to instead dispose of them in the regular trash. Try reusing those bags for other purposes before trashing them if they can’t be recycled. You can reuse them as small trash bin liners for your bathrooms or office. It’s always a great idea to reuse any disposable item as many times as possible before disposing of them.
The most common and convenient place that accepts plastic shopping bags for recycling would be your local grocery store.
Stores that Accept Plastic Bags for Recycling
Every major national grocery retailer accepts plastic bags for recycling including:
- Safeway and all their associated stores.
- Whole Foods
- Home Depot
The recycling bins are usually located near the entrance and clearly marked to differentiate between the different types of recyclable materials accepted. Smaller grocery retailers may also accept plastic bags for recycling, but you will need to check on your next visit.
Most Plastic Film Can Be Recycled
By now you know that shopping bags are easily recycled at most local grocery stores or big-box retailers, but what about non-grocery bags? Almost any clean, dry bag can be recycled and become new items and stay out of landfills and out of our oceans.
These soft plastics can be taken to the same bins at grocery and chain stores. Clean and dry soft plastic bags can all be dropped at your local Target, Walmart, or grocery store.
- Newspaper delivery bags
- Dry cleaning wraps
- Bread and produce bags
- Plastic cereal box liners
- Case wrap/Shipping bags (often wrapped around diapers, water bottles, paper towels, napkins, and toilet paper)
- Ice bags
- Resealable bags
- Air Pillows – like the ones you get from Amazon. Deflate bags prior to dropping in the recycling bin to reduce the amount of space used.
- Recycle bubble wrap
- Plastic envelopes
- Pallet wrap and shrink wrap
Why You Should Recycle Plastic Bags
Plastic bags often become litter due to how lightweight they are and end up in our oceans where marine life may mistake them as food, causing terrible harm to marine life in our already polluted oceans.
Besides pollution, recycling plastic bags also reduce carbon emissions and greenhouse gas. LDPE and HDPE resins are created using fossil fuels. Resin that has been created from fossil fuels is known as virgin resin, whereas resin from recycled plastic is known as post-consumer resin (PCR). By recycling your plastic bags you are reducing the amount of fossil fuels needed for the manufacturing of virgin resin.
Note for businesses: Plastic film is 3 – 5x more valuable than recycled cardboard. If your business does not include plastic film in your recycling program you are missing out on a valuable component.
Reusable Shopping Bags
One of the best ways to help is to avoid using plastic bags wherever possible. If you have not already, look into getting a few reusable shopping bags made of cloth or fabric. You may want to also get one or two insulated bags for cold food.
The good news is that most of us have gotten into the habit of using reusable shopping bags as much as possible. Of course there are those times that we forget or didn’t bring enough along with us, and we end up with a small, but growing collection of plastic shopping bags under or sink or in our pantries. Keep in mind the thicker plastic bags such as those used in California and states with bags bans are designed to be used 100+ times.
Plastic Bag Recycling FAQs
Yes. Bubble wrap can be recycled in the same bins that accept grocery bags and other plastic film. Bubble wrap is made from LDPE plastic #4.
Yes. Ziploc bags are recyclable as long as they are clean. Prior to recycling the zippers should be removed along with any food remnants or other debris. Ziploc bags are also made to be reusable so consider reusing multiple times before putting in the recycle bin.
Soft plastics such as those used in plastic shopping bags are not easily recycled and due to be lightweight can get blown around and caught in machinery causing problems for large recycling facilities. The only plastics that are normally accepted curbside are bottles, cans, and jugs with the recycling symbol on them, not soft plastics like bags or hard plastics like old toys or tubs. Yet another reason not to put your plastic bags in the curbside recycling bin is that they can very easily blow out and become litter.
Soft, lightweight plastic bags and plastic film are taken to the proper facilities for processing and turn into plastic pellets, which are referred to as post-consumer resin (PCR) pellets. The pellets are later turned into composite lumber for decking, fences, crates, pallets, even playground equipment. A much better use for our plastic bags then litter and ocean pollutants. Some of the recycled bags and film are re-used to make new plastic bags and products.
Companies that purchase recycled bags and film:
Composite decking manufacturers
- Moisture Shield (Formerly AERT)
Plastic Bag Manufacturers
- Novolex – Home of Bag 2 Bag. Nationwide recycling program for plastic, paper, and other materials.
- Roplast – a closed-loop re-processor, uses post-consumer resin to create new bags for retail and grocery.
If you are uncertain on whether a particular bag or material can be recycled look for the recycle symbol or the How2Recycle label
The following items cannot be recycled.
- Potato chip bags
- Granola bar wrappers
- Crinkly or shiny wrappers
- Dirty or soiled plastic bags cant be recycled
- Bulky or hard plastic items