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The List: 18 Types of Plastic Packaging and Their Recyclability, AKA Your Soft Plastics Recycling Guide

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After your kids (or you!) enjoy popping sheets of bubble wrap, stick them with your grocery bags and other soft plastics to bring to drop off bins.


Currently the back of my car contains three pillow-sized sacks of plastic bags and packaging, just waiting for me to swing by my local supermarket so that I can drop them off in a soft-plastics recycling collection bin.

If you’re pretty conscientious about recycling, like me, you probably already know that plastic bags and other soft plastics should not go into most curbside recycling bins. Instead, these materials can be dropped off in collection bins, usually found at supermarkets, hardware stores, recycling centers, and other locations (search for a location near you on PlasticFilmRecycling.org).

I’m always wondering, though, what can and cannot go in those drop-off bins. What about the thin, pliable bags my bread comes in? The saran wrap left in my kids’ lunch box? It looks like Recyclebank readers have the same sorts of questions — we get a lot of reader mail asking for recycling advice on various food packages and other flexible plastic. I’ve done the research for you, so now you can refer to this post to clear up as much confusion as possible about the various types of plastic you encounter, and whether they can be recycled.

A quick note about recycling soft plastics: The most important thing is to make sure it is clean (that means no food residue), dry, and empty. Even a single paper receipt inside a grocery bag will slow down the process or contaminate the plastic.

Without further ado, here’s your guide to what’s recyclable in your nearest soft-plastics drop-off bin:


YES

1. Dry Cleaning Bags

2. Produce Bags

3. Grocery and Retail Bags

4. Plastic Wrappers (like those from toilet paper, diapers, paper towels)

5. Cereal Box Liners

Note: If it tears like paper, it’s not recyclable.

6. Bubble Wrap and Air Pillows

Note: Pop the bubbles and pouches first.

7. Plastic Shipping Envelopes

8. Zip-Top Bags and Sandwich Bags

9. Bread Bags

10. Newspaper Bags


NO

1. Food Wrap (cling wrap)

2. Cellophane (like from flowers or gift baskets)

3. Frozen Food Bags

4. Pretzel and Potato Chip Bags

Note: Although some manufacturers are taking strides to minimize packaging and reduce landfill-bound waste, and Terracycle has a program to collect snack bags and turn them into 3D printer filament.

5. Biodegradable Produce Bags (often recognizable by their greenish tint)

Note: These bags are better suited for compost collection.

6. Salad and Greens Bags, Food Packages

7. Candy Bar Wrappers

8. Zipper Bedding Packaging

Note: They might be accepted by your curbside program — check with your hauler.

Do you recycle your plastic packaging? Share your efforts in the comments below.

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Jennifer Van N. 1 month ago
    I called Sargento to ask if their shredded cheese bags were recyclable. Amazingly someone answered and told me they currently are NOT recyclable.
  • Kathy H. 4 months ago
    what about the plastic that shredded cheese comes in?
  • Kathy H. 4 months ago
    didn't know about the zip locks, thanks!
  • Peg R. 4 months ago
    I use these for my non-recycle trash instead of buying trash bags.
  • Carolyn B. 4 months ago
    Wondering if the bags that dog food, and bird seed come in are recyclable ???
    • christine r. 4 months ago
      Ours doesn't take them, but check your local humane society as a way to recycle them. Our local one uses them to put food in for needy pet owners.
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