I’ve checked back from time to time on your site about what to do with plastic bags — bread bags, frozen veggie bags, Ziploc bags, etc. Grocery stores will take clean plastic grocery bags back for reprocessing, but so far I don’t know about the other bags. It’s hard to avoid accumulating these bags since so much comes pre-packaged in them. Any ideas?
-Sue L., Orchard Park, NY
Plastic bag recycling (also known as plastic film recycling) can get tricky if you don't know what kind of plastic the bag is made of. Those plastic bag recycling drop-off boxes at grocery stores accept polyethylene film, which includes high-density polyethylene (also known as HDPE or #2 plastic) and low-density polyethylene (also known as #4 plastic or LDPE). Most bags that are marked as #2 HDPE or #4 LDPE can be placed in the drop-off box, along with your regular plastic grocery bags. However, a lot of perfectly acceptable bags aren’t marked with what kind of plastic they are — bread bags and Ziploc bags, for example.
You can actually put bread bags and Ziploc bags with your plastic grocery bags when you take them back to the grocery store for recycling. Just make sure they are dry and clean, completely free of food residue. But it’s true, frozen veggie bags are not accepted. That’s because the plastic in these bags typically contain additives or layers of other materials to protect the food. The additives or layers are contaminants in the plastic film recycling process and can ruin a whole batch of recycled material, so make sure to keep them out of the drop-off box.
Unfortunately, there aren’t really any other options for recycling frozen food bags. It is indeed hard to avoid them, but avoiding them is currently the best way to reduce unrecyclable plastic waste. It negates the convenience of prepared frozen foods, but you could freeze fresh vegetables, fruits, and meals in food storage bags. Food storage bags, after they are washed and dried, can be recycled.
And remember, we are talking about recycling plastic bags by dropping them off at receptacles found in grocery stores and other retail locations. Plastic bags should never go in your home recycling bin. It’s extremely rare for curbside pick-up recycling programs to accept plastic bags in the recycling bin, so play it safe and take them to a drop-off location. Use Plasticfilmrecycling.org’s drop-off locator to find one near you.