Dear Recyclebank: Can plastic grocery bags be recycled along with other recyclables? -S.
The short answer is: No, soft plastic cannot be recycled in most curbside recycling bins.
Plastic bags, as common as they are, are still not as widely recycled as other forms of plastic. According to the EPA, only 12 percent of the category of plastics that includes bags, sacks, and wraps ended up getting recycled in 2012. That’s compared to 31 percent of PET bottles and jars (water bottles or peanut jars, for example).
Typically made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE, number 2 plastic) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE, number 4 plastic), plastic bags and other soft plastics are difficult to recycle because of their form. Plastic bags are lightweight and can easily get blown to places they don’t belong, and because they’re thin and flexible, they have a tendency to get snagged or tangled in machinery.
Most curbside recycling collection systems and processing equipment are designed to separate rigid materials like cans, bottles, or paper products. A good reminder: If the plastic material in question can be wrapped around your finger, it doesn't belong in your recycle bin.
When plastic bags get mixed in with other recyclables, they’re difficult to sort out, and often jam or damage the machines at materials recovery facilities and slow down the recycling process. Therefore, most communities do not accept plastic bags and other soft plastics through their curbside recycling programs. Sadly, many end up either in landfills or as ugly tree ornaments, urban tumbleweed, or worse, get mistaken as food by marine animals.
While it’s best to reduce the amount of plastic bags you use by reusing them or remembering to bring your own reusable bags to the grocery store, you can still recycle plastic bags and keep them out of landfills or the environment. First, check to see if your community’s curbside recycling program accepts plastics bags. If they’re not accepted, make sure you don’t mix them in with other recyclables in your bin. Instead, take them to a drop-off recycling location. Most large grocery chains, home improvement stores, and retailers like Wal-Mart and Target provide collection bins, usually by the main entrance, for clean and dry soft plastics such as:
- Grocery/carryout bags
- Newspaper delivery bags
- Dry cleaning wraps
- Bread and produce bags
- Zipper food storage bags
- Plastic cereal box liners
- Case wrap/shipping packaging (often found around diapers, snacks, water bottles, and paper towels)
Once these plastic bags and wraps are collected and shipped to the proper recycling facilities, they are turned into backyard decking, fences, playground equipment, pipes, pallets, crates, and even new plastic bags.