Dear Recyclebank: I get a decent amount of these little air bags that are used for shipping. They have a RIC number 4 on them, but from what I understand these bags get caught in the machinery so they don't want them put in the bin. Can I drop them off at the supermarket bins that collect the plastic supermarket bags? –C. M.
Dear C. M.: You’re absolutely right that plastic film can be hazardous to the machinery at most recycling centers. Air pillows are meant to be reused but, like bubble wrap, they can only be shipped (or stored in a closet) for so long before deflation eventually makes them useless.
As we touched on in our post about recycling the packaging for online orders, the bins you’re thinking of at your local supermarket are a good option for your air pillows. They collect a variety of plastic film products and do typically accept #4 plastic. You can use the Plastic Film Recycling Drop Off Directory, maintained by the American Chemistry Council, to locate a suitable drop-off point in your area.
Grocery stores drop-offs aren’t the only option, though. Packaging manufacturers like Sealed Air have mail-in recycling programs for their products. Just make sure to stick to their directions so the material is processed correctly. No matter how you choose to recycle, deflate the pillows first and make sure they don’t have any residue from tape or glue, as this can contaminate the recycling process. Also, keep in mind that if you receive air pillows labeled as “biodegradable” or “compostable,” these are generally not accepted for recycling.
With the plastics recycling rate still hovering around 30% in the U.S., every little bit helps. Recycle those air pillows once they’re past their prime and you can help push that rate higher.
SOURCES: Environmental Protection Agency