Recycling Plastic Bags… Because Sometimes You Forget the Reusable Ones

plastic shopping bagsGot a collection of reusable shopping bags? Same here… but I’ll freely admit that sometimes I forget them, or decide to stop to pick things up when I don’t have them with me. You’re probably in the same boat: despite your best efforts to reduce your use of plastic shopping bags, you’ve still got a stash of them somewhere…

So what do you do with them? You definitely want to keep them out of the waste stream, so obvious uses, like lining trash cans or otherwise using them for waste disposal, aren’t the best choices. You’ve got other options, though… and, as you’ll see, your choices for responsible disposal are expanding.

How to Reuse Plastic Bags

If you’re not going to pick up the dog poop with them, or line the bathroom trash can, how can you put those plastic bags to (re)use? Turns out there are quite a few upcycling options…

  • Make a sweater… or a scarf: You crafty types can turn those bags into yarn… and then knit, crochet or weave with it.
  • Fuse them into “cloth”: Got an iron and some old paper? You can make cloth-like crafting material out of your bags, also.
  • Protect and store food: Making a trip to the farmer’s market? Put a few of those plastic bags inside your reusable one to separate and protect the food you buy. You can also use them for storage once you get your produce and baked goods home.

How to Recycle Plastic Bags

Unfortunately, recycling these old bags isn’t often as convenient as other materials — you generally can’t put them in the curbside bin, for instance. There are still recycling options, though… and we need to do this, as the recycling statistics are pretty discouraging: about 12% of plastic bags get recycled.

  • Take them back to the store: Many stores offer plastic bag recycling bins… California, New York, and now Delaware, ever have laws on the books requiring this service.The American Chemistry Council’s PlasticBagRecycling.org site has a database of drop-off locations.
  • Don’t, however, view recycling as the solution: It’s especially important to focus on reducing the amount of plastic shopping bags we use, however — recycling options often aren’t available because these items present a whole host of problems for recyclers. Recycle ’em if you’ve got ’em… but do your best to avoid collecting more that need recycling. Keep in mind that “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” is a hierarchy…

How do you deal with plastic shopping bags? Or, maybe more importantly, how do you ensure you don’t end with any to begin with?

Image credit: evelynishere at Flickr under a Creative Commons license

  1. Christi

    I love it! I’m a recycle crafter and am now recycling those plastic carrier bags for 15 different families by upcycling them into reusable bags, backpacks and purses! My recycling adventure has kept over 3000 of these out of the waste stream or worse, our ocean!

    Thanks for writing such an informative piece about putting this wasted resource to good use!

    [email protected]

  2. Paul Cannella

    Using them for picking up your dog’s waste is not a great idea. These bags take over 100 years to degrade and never return to their original source, oil! Use 100% biodegradable bags that are made from natural, renewable resources such as corn. My company PoopBags.com produces them, but if I can convert someone away from plastic, use any brand on the market. Be well, and help protect our Earth. – PC

  3. KenHolmes

    Hey Paul…. corn based plastic that meets ASTM D6400 standards will biodegrade, sure, but only in high heat aerobic conditions found at municipal composting facilities. If you just toss them into a landfill, it gets buried and just sits there. And I doubt that composting facilities want you to send poop their way.

    The corn based plastics sound great, but unless composted, they won’t degrade any faster than a normal plastic bag. They are also made from food, which could be better used to feed people.

    There is another type of biodegradable bag that WILL degrade anaerobically in landfills, and it isn’t made from a food crop. You should look into trying that for your poop bags.

  4. Martin Schulz

    Wash, dry, and re-use them! I have a handful of the clear plastic produce bags that have found their way into my life, some of which I’ve used over and over again for many years. Just rinse them out, hang them up to dry, and re-use during your next trip to the grocery store. Then recycle them when they are no longer usable. You can even re-use old bread bags, potato chip bags, etc for bulk items. Every little bit helps.

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