Unless you live in an area that has banned single-use plastic shopping bags, you likely can't avoid them. From the grocery store to take-out orders at your favorite Chinese food place, plastic bags are everywhere. Your local community-supported agriculture group might even hand over some of their locally grown produce in plastic bags.
Because they're so common—and so detrimental to our environment—it's important to know how to recycle plastic bags correctly.
Why Plastic Bags Are Harmful
Before we cover how to recycle plastic bags, let's learn a bit more about what they actually are. Plastic bags are considered film plastic. Film plastic is stretchy and usually made of polyethylene (PE). This plastic category includes bread bags, produce grocery bags, dry cleaning bags, zip-top bags, and much of the plastic used to wrap products such as diapers and toilet paper. You can also include bubble wrap and shipping bags in this category.
Like all plastic, most film plastic is made from refined crude oil which is drilled from underground reserves. But that's not the main reason why it's so damaging to our environment. When we throw away plastic bags, they take 1,000 years to degrade in a landfill. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, plastic bags "don't break down completely but instead photo-degrade, becoming microplastics that absorb toxins and continue to pollute the environment."
However, when they're put into the correct recycling stream, plastic bags are shredded and formed into pellets that can be reused. Manufacturing companies then use these pellets to create new plastic bags, decking, playground equipment, piping, and more.
Plastic Bag Recycling Best Practices
It's very unlikely that you can recycle plastic bags with your standard curbside recycling—but it is likely that you have a film plastic recycling drop-off point near you.
According to the American Chemistry Council Plastic Film Recycling, there are 18,000 recycling points in the United States and Canada. You can search their website for participating locations and drop-offs by zip code. These are the best places to recycle your plastic bags. Odds are, the drop-off will be in a convenient location, like a supermarket or retail store.
So, collect all your film plastic and bring it with you when you run your weekly errands. Make sure it's dry and clean of any food residue. Also, it's best to remove paper or stickers—especially with your name or address.
Curb Plastic Bag Use
By dropping off your plastic bag waste for proper recycling, you can be confident that you're not contributing to jam-packed landfills. That said, the best thing we can do is reduce or stop our use of plastic bags entirely.
Phasing out plastic bags, such as any single-use plastic reduction in your life, will take some effort. Start with small steps:
- Pick paper bags over plastic if the option is provided. You can also hand-carry your purchased items if possible.
- Bring reusable tote bags to the grocery store, the farmer's market, the mall, etc.
- Switch to reusable zip-top bags for food or snacks on the go.
Often, the biggest hurdle is remembering to actually bring reusable bags with you before setting out on a shopping trip. So, leave yours in your car's trunk or by the front door. By limiting the amount of plastic bags you use, you can help to reduce the whopping 100 billion plastic bags Americans use each year and curb a major source of pollution.
Are you inspired to dig into more recycling info? For more eco-friendly ideas and inspiration, follow the Thinking Sustainably board from @tomsofmaine on Pinterest!
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Why It's Good
By reducing the amount of plastic bags you use and recycling the ones you do, you can help to curb a major source of pollution for our Earth.