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Are Plastic Bags Recyclable? Here's Everything You Need to Know

After putting away groceries, you're probably wondering: Are plastic bags recyclable? Here's the right and wrong way to go about it.

Written by
Kristine Nguyen

Did you know that the average American family takes home nearly 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year? And only one percent of plastic bags are recycled? With how common those plastic bags are, you would think they would be recyclable by now. And they are! But... not in the way you would think.

Are Plastic Bags Recyclable?

As nice as it would be to throw your plastic bags in the recycling bin at home, plastic bags and other similar soft plastics (such as zipper food storage bags or produce bags) aren't easy to recycle. Made of either high-density polyethylene or low-density polyethylene, the lightweight form of these bags makes them easily blown away to places they shouldn't be. Not only that, but most recycling facilities aren't equipped to recycle them.

The processing equipment at these facilities is made to separate materials like rigid glass, cans, or rigid plastics. Plastic bags have a tendency to get snagged or tangled in the conveyor belts or wheels of the machinery. This can damage the machines and slow the entire recycling process. When they're not recycled properly and wind up in a landfill, they can take up to 1,000 years to degrade. Luckily, there are other ways you can recycle plastic bags.

How to Recycle Plastic Bags

First check to see if your local curbside recycling program accepts plastic bags in the first place. If they do, great! If they don't, find a drop-off recycling location near you. Many popular grocery chains, like Target and Wal-Mart, have collection bins for plastic bags and soft plastics that you might not even know about. Once they're shipped to the correct facility, they'll be properly recycled and could become eco-friendly composite lumber or new bags.

Trying to reduce your plastic bag usage so you don't need to worry about recycling them? There's tons of cute, reusable alternatives out there. Check out these picks to not only save the planet, but look good while doing it.

3 Reusable Plastic Bag Alternatives

1. Standard Baggu, $12

Baggu creates ethical and sustainable reusable bags for people and the planet. Based on the construction of a plastic shopping bag (and made with lightweight ripstop nylon), these cute and functional bags hold 2 to 3 times as much as the average disposable plastic bag.

Looking for a reusable alternative to those zipper snack bags? Look no further—Stasher has you covered. With a wide variety of silicone bags that you can use over and over again, you'll never have to buy disposable options again. Stasher even has a partnership with TerraCycle, where you can recycle your damaged bags into entirely new products.

Never worry about getting those flimsy plastic produce bags open again. Eco-Bags Products is a Certified B Corporation with a mission to offer ethically and sustainably-sourced reusable bags. These drawstring options are made with natural cotton and can be used over and over again.