Can Plastic Bags Be Recycled?

close-up of white spray painted recycle logo on blue background

Getting to the Bottom of a Common Recycling Question

Single-use plastic bags seem harmless enough. They make it easy to carry groceries and other items home from the store, but then what? Some people repurpose them as trash bags but then they end up in a landfill and the materials are lost. Recycling seems like a great solution to continually reuse these resources. But can you recycle plastic bags? You might be wondering what types of plastic bags can be recycled, and we are here to tell you that it is more complicated than that.

Value of Recycling

Recycling makes it possible to utilize the same resources again and again. So instead of using virgin materials, manufacturers can use existing materials. This is particularly beneficial when it comes to materials made from nonrenewable resources, like plastic. While there are plenty of virgin resources available, it’s advantageous to recycle because it allows us to make the most of these resources while also keeping plastic and other nonbiodegradable materials out of landfills.

Problems with Recycling Plastic Bags

Recycling single-use plastic bags prove to be such a drain in terms of time and money that most recycling facilities do not accept them. Single-use plastic bags are difficult to recycle because they can become stuck in the processing equipment. Often, resolving this problem requires shutting everything down and manually removing the blockage. Stopping work is necessary for this instance, but it’s also inefficient.

Failing to remove plastic bags during the sorting process can also end up costing recycling facilities money. Recycling is a business, and facilities make money by sorting materials into bails and selling those bails to manufacturers who use them to create new items. If a plastic bag ends up mixed into a bail of other recyclables that batch cannot be sold and the recycling facility loses all of the time and effort that went into sorting and creating that bail.

Landfilling and Litter

Since recycling just does not work, many people toss their plastic bags in the trash. The problem with throwing plastic bags in the garbage is two-fold. First, the materials are lost to recycling and manufacturing, and new virgin materials will have to be used to replace what was lost. Second, plastic does not safely break down. Over time and with enough exposure to the elements, plastic will break down into smaller and even smaller pieces of plastic, but it’s still there and it’s still taking up space. This contributes to landfills reaching capacity.

Sometimes litter happens on purpose when a person carelessly tosses trash on the ground. Other times, litter can happen by accident. Items thrown in an open garbage can or recycling bin or even on a landfill can be carried off by a strong gust of wind or even an animal. Litter is a major threat that can be fatal to animals and their habitats. The long-term health impacts of plastic litter on the food chain are also concerning.

Alternative Solutions

Recycling is not a viable option for plastic bags and litter is a problem, but consumers still need a solution. Single-use plastic bag bans are providing an effective solution. By eliminating plastic bags, all of the resulting problems are also eliminated. Recyclers love plastic bag bans because this means fewer plastic bags enter into the waste stream and slow down the recycling process. Making the switch to reusable bags takes some time for retailers and consumers, but it helps to drastically reduce plastic bag trash and litter.

What Your Business Can Do

Answering the question, can you recycle plastic bags seems like it should be straightforward, but it’s not. Plastic bags are recyclable, but the process is such a hassle that most recycling facilities do not accept them. Your business can provide a real solution by creating custom reusable shopping bags. This way your customers will have a safe and effective alternative, that can be recycled when the time comes.

Our business can help because that’s what we’ve been doing for over 10 years now. We make it easy to design and create your own reusable bags. We are so committed to quality and the environment that we hold various certifications like GOTS, Fairtrade, ISO 9001, and FEDEX. Many of our bags are even certified reusable to ensure quality construction that will last.


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