Bagging It

used plastic bags

Many of us are aware of a recent ‘green’ trend – take your own bags to the grocery store. The bags that are made of canvas or some other type of durable fabric that you can use over and over, for which you likely paid a fair amount of cash. I tend to be quite green-minded, but this is one area where I am just too lazy, or maybe just too inconvenienced. How can I remember to take enough bags? In my rush to do too many things at once, I’m lucky when I remember to place the grocery list in my purse or pocket before leaving the house. I would also imagine that these bags get quite dirty after several uses. But perhaps I am just creating another excuse for my lack of ‘bag compliance.’

So, for those of us who have not converted to being completely ‘green’  – we can still do a small part to help the environment. With the right attitude and ‘bag’ knowledge, you can simplify this task and return more than just your grocery bags to the store.

Can I recycle all of my plastic bags and film?
plastic bag donation binMost but not all plastic bags and plastic film can be placed in your grocery store ‘bag’ bin. We will go into the specifics here. Note that majority of the following information is through courtesy of the Plastic Recycling Organization.

In general terms, if a bag or plastic film has some give, or stretches when you pull it apart, it can be recycled. These items include:

  • All plastic grocery bags
  • Overwrap that covers toilet paper, Kleenex and paper towels.
  • Food storage such as Ziploc and sandwich bags
  • Most bread bags and wrappers. Note that some of the wrapper/bags for specialty breads from a bakery, or from the bakery section of a grocery store do not stretch; they are more like cellophane and are not accepted in this recycling stream.
  • Wrappers from bottled water, Gatorade, soda and other multi-drink packages
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Newspaper sleeves
  • Produce bags
  • Bubble wrap

Make sure all your bags are clean and dry, and do not have any food residue. Any labels and tape should also be removed and placed in your trash.

Items not accepted include:

  • Candy wrappers, flower bouquet wrap, and chip bags. Note that these crinkle when squeezed.
  • Stiff plastic like bedding bags with zippers.
  • Frozen food packaging; these generally have other additives to protect the food and extend shelf life.
  • Pet food bags.
  • Bags/plastic having a silvery or metallic lining. Examples include snack pouches/bags and printer ink cartridge packing.
  • Any type of bag or film marked as biodegradeable or compostable. These items should be placed in the trash.

Why can’t I just put these items in my recycling bin?
Most of the heavier and stiff plastic bottles are picked up by the local recycling companies in your town or village. But because plastic bags and film must also be clean and dry for recycling purposes, placing these items outside for pick-up will expose them to the elements and possibly contaminate them. In addition, with windy and inclement weather, these bags can easily fly out of the bins, adding garbage to the environment and getting tangled in foilage.

While many plastic bags are recyclable, they need to go through a different process due to their lightweight nature. If they are put onto conveyors with heavier plastic bottles, they can easily fall off the belts and jam up the machinery.

 What happens to all these bags?
According to the Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers:

Plastic bags are recycled into many different products. Most bags and film are turned into composite lumber, but they can be reprocessed into small pellets or post-consumer resin, which can be used to make a variety of new products, such as new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and pipe.

Trex, a company offering high-composite decking products, is very active in the recycling of film plastics. Trex makes composite lumber products from this recycled material. Take a look at this plastics recycling video to see how they do it!

Storage Suggestions
store used bags under your sinkSo what’s the best way to collect these bags in between your treks to the grocery store? Find an open space in your kitchen – preferably in a drawer or cabinet, so you will not add to your ‘clutter.’ I place a small plastic grocery bag under the kitchen sink, and fill it up with other film and plastic bags all week. When you squeeze them down, they really don’t take up much room. I can easily fit a week’s worth of bags into the bag shown here. Then when I’m ready to go for more groceries, I hopefully remember to grab both my list and the filled bag.

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