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Nov 5, 2019

Recycling Plastic Bags and Wraps Properly

For many of us, household recycling has become a habit, albeit a good one.

If there’s a little triangle with a number inside it anywhere on an item, many people will toss it into their recycling bin without a second thought.

Recycling educators in Hampton Roads want you to know that’s not always the right choice.

The items accepted in your household recycling bin are specific to where you live. If there is any doubt about whether something is accepted in the bin, look it up or just keep it out.

The problem is, items not accepted by your recycling program that are placed in recycling bins become contamination.

And that can mean consequences that negatively impact the entire recycling process. That’s no good!

What’s the most frequent contaminant in Hampton Roads’ home recycling bins and across the country? Plastic bags.

But it doesn’t just stop with plastic bags… The line-up of home recycling bin offenders includes all thin plastics

Thin plastics include:

  • store-provided shopping bags
  • fruit/vegetable produce bags
  • dry cleaning bags
  • newspaper bags
  • paper towels plastic wrapping
  • toilet paper plastic wrapping
  • and more

When you toss plastic bags and wraps in the bin along with your other household recyclables, those thin plastics ultimately wrap around machinery at the recycling facility and often cause the whole system to go down while machines are untangled.

And facility “down time” means lost efficiency, time and money. Even worse, THOSE plastic bags are destined for the landfill or incinerator and will never be recycled.

But plastic bags and other thin plastics are highly recyclable and sought-after materials.

Properly recycled plastic bags become the plastic lumber used in outdoor decking, park benches, playground equipment and more.

The key is getting the plastic bags into the right recycling stream so they can be collected and reused. The good news is recycling plastic bags is easy.

The solution? Simply bring your plastic bags and wraps to a plastic bag collection center found inside almost every popular big-box grocer and home improvement store.

This simple step will ensure your plastic bags will have a second life instead of becoming trash.

Good to Know

  • Each disposable shopping bag is typically used for less than an hour.
  • The average American family takes home almost 1,500 plastic shopping bags a year, but only returns about one percent for recycling.
  • Plastic bags are easily recyclable and in high demand for making plastic lumber.
  • Along with plastic bags, you can recycle fruit/vegetable produce bags, dry cleaning bags, newspaper bags, and the plastic wrappers found around your paper towels and toilet 

Good to Do

  • Keep plastic bags and wraps out of your household recycling bin.
  • Collect clean, dry plastic bags and wraps separately, then return them to the plastic bag recycling center inside your local grocer or home improvement store.
  • Never bag your household recyclables. All recyclables should be placed inside the recycling cart loose.
  • Reduce your use of plastic shopping bags by carrying reusable totes.

Recycling Plastic Bags and Wraps Properly Media Toolkit