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All About Plastic Film Recycling (Ways To Recycle More Plastic)

plastic packaging over soda bottles

We often focus on issues surrounding plastic bag recycling, but there is an important type of plastic that is commonly overlooked: plastic film and wrap. Plastic film recycling is a category of soft plastic that is similar to plastic grocery bags. The common exclusion of this material when talking about plastic bag recycling is potentially leaving out a vast amount of viable recyclable material that could be used to make new packaging.

What is Plastic Film?

Close up shot of tissues roll pack for sell at supermarket. tissue paper background.

Plastic film, plastic overwrap, and other soft plastic packaging is often found as an alternative packaging options for products that do not use cardboard packaging. Commonly overwrap is found as packaging for paper towels, toilet paper, dry cleaning bags, and more.

Plastic film is made of polyethylene (PE) plastic. This type of plastic is commonly labeled  #2 HDPE or #4 LDPE in the recycling loop. This does not mean all #2 and #4 plastics fall within this category, only that if it is #2 or #4 and flexible it can be recycled with plastic grocery bags.

To be more specific about what constitutes “flexible,” let’s clarify that if you can pull and stretch it with your hands, then it is probably plastic film. If it tears or makes a crinkling noise, it is not the type of plastic film accepted with plastic bags.

How To Recycle Plastic Film

clear Film roll for packing and sticky

Plastic film is not accepted in the vast majority of curbside recycling programs. Plastic film is a type of soft plastic that is difficult to sort out and can easily gets tangled in recycling center sorting machines. Unless you live in one of the rare locations that accept this material, you should never place this type of plastic in your curbside bins, but it is able to be recycled with plastic bags at designated drop-off locations.

It is important to remember that all plastic film that is meant for recycling must be clean and dry. There should be no stickers or debris on the plastic. If there is, you can remove that portion and recycle the remaining clean plastic.

Make sure you do not add any biodegradable or compostable plastic film to the bin. These types of packaging are made of an entirely different material and would contaminate a load of viable plastic film for recycling.

Drop-Off Location Obstacles

No To Plastic. Unrecognizable Girl Carrying White Eco Bag Over Yellow Background. Studio Shot, Copy Space, Cropped

Unfortunately, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, many locations that usually accept plastic shopping bags, film, and overwrap have paused or stopped accepting these materials. While now we know Covid-19 is unlikely to spread through surface transmission, it has been a slow recovery for plastic bag and plastic film recycling to reemerge.

Additionally, when an area enacts a bag ban, sometimes the local stores that used to provide bag and film recycling, will stop providing those services. The logic being that if they are no longer the source of plastic bag waste, they no longer need to provide recycling services for that material since that recycling cost comes out of their pocket.

While your normal drop-off may have been removed, it doesn’t mean they are all gone. It just may take a bit more planning when you need to drop off.

Where to Recycle Plastic Film

Empty shopping cart in the supermarket

With these obstacles facing plastic film recycling, it is even more important that you locate your local plastic recycling drop-off. These sites provide plastic bag and film recycling resources for you to locate bins near you:

It is common to find these plastic bag and wrap bins at many grocery or retail stores. Many big box stores such as Walmart, Home Depot, Stapes, and the majority of grocery store chains accept plastic bags for recycling. There is typically a bin in or around the entrance of these stores specifically meant for bag and film recycling.

Additionally, it is worthwhile to check with your local recycling program to see if they accept plastic film or shopping bags as a drop-off item even if they do not accept them with curbside pick ups. You can also look up plastic film and wrap in the ‘What Goes Where’ search tool on the Recycle Coach Mobile App in participating locations to find out if it is accepted in your area.

Recycle More Materials

Plastic film and overwrap is often an overlooked material that is completely recyclable through these drop-off programs. Since only about 9% of plastic produced is recycled, we need to make sure we are getting the plastics that are recyclable to the right places. Knowing what is and is not recycling can help us recover more materials in order to use less natural resources for new products.

The EPA estimates that 14.5 million tons of plastic packaging and containers are produced annually. Now that you know a large amount of soft plastic packaging is actually accepted with plastic grocery bags, you can start helping to recover more materials for recycling.

Plastics are made from oil, so more plastic recovered for recycling means less dependency on oil. It is estimated that with our current increases in the production of plastic packaging, by 2050 plastics will make up approximately 20% of our oil consumption. If we are not recycling plastics when they are accepted for recycling, we are depending on more plastics being produced, in turn depending more on the finite resources of oil.

So, make sure you recycle plastic film whenever you come across it, if it is the correct type of film or overwrap packaging.

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