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Can You Recycle Plastic Bags? Facts, Tips, & Alternatives Solutions

plastic bag near door

Plastic bags are made of, well, plastic. Plastic is largely recyclable, so does that mean that you can recycle plastic bags as well? Yes and no. Plastic bags are technically recyclable, but the process for doing so is different from your average recycling. Plastic bags cannot be put into a normal recycling bin. If you put plastic bags into regular recycling, not only will you not get your bags recycled, but you could also actually end up breaking important recycling machinery at the local facility.

There are ways to reuse, dispose of, and recycle plastic bags safely, but you have to know the details in order to do it right.

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Plastic Bag Recycling Centers

Plastic bags are recycled at special plastic bag recycling centers. These special facilities take plastic bags and turn them into small plastic pellets that are then used in a variety of different ways. In order to get your bags to one of these facilities, you often have to drop them off at a special drop-off point. The good news is that most grocery stores double as plastic bag intake centers. Since grocery stores are one of the main users and distributors of plastic bags, they gladly take them back and recycle them.  If you are curious, ask your local grocery clerk about plastic bag recycling.

You can also look up an official facility near you¹ to find a place to drop off your bags, so they go to a proper recycling facility.

recycling center sorting raw materials
Image By: Heinera, Shutterstock

How to Properly Dispose of Plastic Bags

There are two ways to properly dispose of plastic bags. You can either throw them away in regular landfill trash or drop them off at a plastic bag recycling center or drop-off point. Those are the only two ways that you want to get rid of plastic bags. Plastic bags can be harmful to animals and nature, so you do not want to litter or throw them away outside. You also do not want to throw them away in regular blue recycling bins.

Throw plastic bags away or take them to your local grocery store. Those are the best ways to dispose of plastic bags.

Never Put Plastic Bags into Regular Recycling Bins

It might seem like a good idea to try and put plastic bags into regular recycling bins with other items like newspapers, glass bottles, and aluminum, but that is absolutely not the case. Plastic bags are thin, and they can tear easily. Torn bags leave long strands of plastic that can easily become tangled in important recycling equipment.

Recycling centers have a lot of moving parts. They have conveyor belts that transfer the items. They have sorting machines that separate plastics, papers, and metals. There are magnets chutes, and hoppers. Plastic bags can easily get torn, caught, and stuck in any one of these apparatuses. If a plastic bag gets tangled up in important mechanisms, it can slow down or even break the recycling machines. In this case, not only are your bags not getting properly reused, but they are also actually causing harm to the recycling process.

For these reasons, it is extremely important never to throw plastic bags in typical blue recycling bins.

throwing plastic bag into litter bin outdoors
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

Try to Reuse Them at Home

Another way to get some extra usage out of your plastic bags is to try to reuse them at home. Plastic bags are very versatile and can be used in a variety of different ways. Even using a plastic bag once or twice after you get home from the store can help give them extra life and increase their usefulness. You can use plastic bags in a variety of ways, including as a lunch bag, a doggy poop bag, or an ice bag. Some people even twist up the bags and then knit or weave them into placemats or tote bags. Then if you have to throw your bags away, at least you got some extra utility out of them even if you can’t recycle them.

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Plastic bags are recyclable, but not everyone can recycle plastic bags. Plastic bags have to be dropped off at special locations, usually your local grocery store, but not everyone wants to do that. If you can’t recycle your plastic bags, the best thing to do is use them again as much as possible and then throw them away at the end of their life. Do not ever put plastic bags into a blue recycling bin. The bottom line is that plastic bags are recyclable, but it is not as simple as it first sounds.

Featured Image Credit: Juan Pablo Serrano Arenas, Pexels


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