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How to Recycle Plastic Bags (It's Easy!)

For better or worse, plastic bags are a part of everyday life. They've provided a cheap and convenient option for retailers to provide us to schlep our new goods to our homes. This convenience, however, comes at a cost to our environment and our wallet.

how to recycle plastic bags

In the US, we collectively use over $4 billion worth of plastic bags each year, which is both a huge cost paid for by retailers but then passed onto customers and a lot of landfill-laden waste. There have been a variety of campaigns to reduce or ban plastic bag usage through reusable bag programs and "bag taxes," but the oil-derived bag remains embedded in brick and mortar commerce in most states.

Through both pressure from customers and a genuine interest in being more sustainable, many big retailers and grocers now have dedicated bins outside their entrances for collecting a variety of recyclables, including plastic bags (regardless of where the bags were obtained).

You may be surprised to know that it's extremely important that plastic bags of this kind don't accidentally end up in your curbside recycling bin, as they can wreak havoc on recycling-sorting machinery (your local waste processor will thank you!). There's probably a label on your recycling bin lid reminding you not to mix them in with your other recyclables.

how to recycle plastic bags

Instead, we recommend stuffing them into a bag until you have enough to drop them off during your next grocery store visit. These are collected in bulk and provided to recycling partners like Trex who can render the bags into plastic pellets that can be manufactured back into bags or into products like vinyl (recycled plastic) or composite (recycled wood and plastic) outdoor flooring material. Interestingly, outdoor composite decking like this outdoor flooring from Trex, is more durable, requires less maintenance and is longer lasting than a traditional wood deck.

The scale of these national collection programs really makes a big difference in keeping plastic bags from ending up in local waterways and landfills and instead up-cycling them into new products. In the event you're not near a grocer with a recycling program, check to see if your county offers a free way to dispose of plastic bags. Nonprofits like How2Recycle also have great databases of bag "drop off" locations around the country and more detailed guidance and education on recycling generally. Read the signs closely, as some of these free "store drops offs" will even take plastic films, newspaper and produce bags, and bubble wrap. To find a nearby location to drop off these kinds of plastics, check out the American Chemistry Council's database.

So the next time you're putting together your grocery list, make a reminder to bring your reusable "tote" with you and save yourself from another plastic bag. And if you really want to "up" your grocery store game, buy an insulated bag and an ice pack to keep your refrigerated goods chilled for your car ride home.

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