Dear Recyclebank: In Vermont, more and more people are using wood pellet stoves for heating. Each ton of pellets is 50 bags and I use about 3 tons, so that is a lot of bags to dispose of. The plastic bags they come in say "Please Recycle", however, I am unable to find a place that will accept them — where should they go? –Frank B.
Dear Frank: Pellet stoves are becoming a very popular home heating solution for good reason. Wood pellets are made of waste products like sawdust, lumber mill scrap, and trees that are unsuitable for lumber, so little energy is needed to obtain the raw product. Pellet stoves are cost-effective and energy efficient. According to the California Air Resources Board, pellet stoves are the most efficient and least polluting of new stove designs, including electric and gas fireplaces. Plus, the Department of Energy states that pellet stoves are the cleanest solid-fuel residential heating appliances. When it comes to your home energy use’s impact on climate change, pellet stoves are a smart move.
However, none of the energy benefits of pellet stoves change the fact that most wood pellets are packaged in hard-to-recycle plastic bags. When you consider that the average homeowner will go through approximately two to three tons of wood pellets per heating season, you end up with a lot of plastic bag waste. The most important thing you can do is reach out to the manufacturer of your wood pellets to express your dissatisfaction with their packaging; the Rutland County Solid Waste District suggests you ask what actions the company is currently taking to reduce the environmental impact of their packaging, and express that you would be interested in participating in a bag take-back program. The next best option is to avoid the bags all together and buy in bulk.
But what about the bags you already have? The first step to recycling your wood pellet bags is to call your waste hauler or drop-off center to find out if they’ll accept them. Many municipalities will not accept thin plastic packaging at all, especially in your recycling container. If they do accept thin plastic films in general, it’s possible they still may not accept wood pellet bags because they don’t have the resources to inspect, rinse, and dry the bags to remove wood-pellet debris.
If you cannot recycle your pellet bags in the traditional methods, see if your local grocery store or pharmacy has a plastic bag drop-off container at the entrance. Check if they accept the type of plastic your pellets are packaged in, and if they do, simply rinse and dry the bags at home, then bring them to the store for recycling.
A more pricey yet effective solution for ethical bag disposal is obtaining a Terracycle Zero Waste Plastic Packaging Box. For a flat rate, Terracycle will send you a storage box, a return shipping label, and will process your recyclables. This is a good choice for stockpiled bags.
Another way to reduce the environmental cost of your wood pellets is to reuse the bags. The simplest reuse for wood pellet bags is to use them as replacement garbage and recycling bags. They are also quite useful in the garden as frost covers for small plants, liners for planters for easy repotting, and as flowerbed liners to prevent weed growth. If you’re particularly creative, save your bags so that you can make a water blob for your kids (or the kid in you) to play with this summer.
SOURCES: Department of Energy, EPA, Pellet Fuels Institute, Rutland County Solid Waste District, Woodpellets.com