Back to Blog

All you need to know about plastic bag recycling

September 16, 2019

If you know your recycling, you probably already know that most communities don’t accept plastic bags in their curbside bins. And if you recycle like a pro, you may know that plastic bag recycling is a thing you can do at most local grocery stores, or superstores like Target or Walmart.

But here’s where it gets confusing. Does that mean just the bags from that store? Or can you recycle more? Most drop-off bag collections accept polyethylene film. This includes high-density polyethylene (HDPE or #2 plastic) and low-density polyethylene (#4 plastic or LDPE). It’s great if your bags have markings on them, but since most do not, it’s good to know some general guidelines.

Some plastics that can go into the bin are:

  • plastic shopping bags (from any store — remove receipts, etc.)
  • food packaging (Ziploc-type bags)
  • bread bags
  • plastic liners from cereal boxes (do not include if they tear like paper)
  • produce bags
  • dry cleaning bags (remove staples, receipts, hangars)
  • plastic newspaper wrapping
  • product wrapping (such as covers a case of water bottles, etc.)
  • bubble wrap and air pillows (popped)
  • plastic shipping envelopes (remove labeling)

ALL materials should be clean and dry. Not just a quick rinse — if your bags are not completely clean of food residue, they will contaminate the entire batch.

Other plastics need to go into the trash. These include:

  • frozen food bags
  • cereal box liners that tear like paper
  • biodegradable bags
  • pre-washed salad bags
  • candy bar wrappers
  • chip bags
  • six-pack rings

Why can’t I put bags in my bin?

Although a small handful of communities accept plastic in curbside bins, the vast majority do not. That’s because most facilities don’t have the personnel and equipment they would need to process them.

Rigid plastics, like gallon milk containers, are easily processed by machine. They are carried by conveyor belts and machine sorted. But throwing plastic bags into the mix wreaks havoc on these machines. The bags bend easily and get snagged in belts. They jam machinery and need to be cleared by hand.

The extra labor required to handle these problems and higher amount of equipment downtime makes your recycling program less profitable. That means that your government has less to spend on other programs.

The bottom line

You can recycle plastic bags and packaging, but don’t put them in your recycling bin! You’ll need to drop them off at your local grocery store. Check the lists above for guidelines on what is accepted and check with your drop-off location if you have any questions. Alternatively, if your city is a member of the Recycle Coach Network, download our app and we’ll hook you up with local information, including more tips and tricks for plastic bag recycling.

Have ideas you want to pitch or want to write for Recycle Coach? Email us at partnerships@recyclecoach.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to Blog

Want to learn more? You may also like...

36 Ideas, Big and Small, for an Eco-friendly Home

April 22, 2020

Celebrate the 50th Earth Day with personal stories of lifestyle changes and essential tips from people across North America  In February 2020, Recycle Coach asked our users and community members: “What are your tips, tricks, and lifestyle changes showing your…

Holiday Wish List & New Year’s Resolution: Healthier, Eco-friendly Lifestyle

December 23, 2019

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, and the countdown is on for New Year’s resolutions. Ahead of the “new year, new me” social media posts, take a pause and think about your holiday wish list. Reflecting on how…