How to Dispose/Recycle Plastic Bags? Do’s and Dont’s!

Despite popular belief, plastic bags are not easy to recycle.

Many cities do not accept plastic bags or other plastic items in the curbside recycling bin.

When thrown in the trash, plastic bags are not biodegradable and end up polluting the environment and harming both land and sea creatures.

Let’s examine the proper ways to dispose of plastic bags.

Put Them Into a Collection Bin

Many grocery stores have collection bins where you can put your used plastic bag.

They typically only take bags marked with either a #2 or #4. Number 2 plastic is made of high-density polyethylene, while thinner #4 plastic uses low-density polyethylene.

You can find a Recycling Center near you using your zip code. Double-check that they accept plastic bags, because not all will.

National grocery stores like Target, Walmart, Safeway, and Kroger will have recycling collections, so you can stop by your nearest store and see where theirs is.

The stores will recycle the bags properly by cutting the bags up into pellets and either shipped to another company to become plastic lumber to make outdoor furniture or reprocessed to make new bags.

However, some plastic bags cannot be placed in a recycling collection bin. Compostable bags will not process the same way as non-biodegradable plastic bags.

Bags that are marked with plastic #7 also cannot be placed in collection bins because they are made with BPA, Polycarbonate, and LEXAN, which are harmful to the environment and are not reusable.

Plastic bags that are also thicker, more durable, and make a louder sound when handling cannot be recycled with thinner film bags.

Typically, the plastic bags that go into the recycling collection bins at grocery stores are made of thinner material than normal recycling facilities cannot process.

Also read: 7 Reasons Recycling Should Be Mandatory

Ways to Reuse Plastic Bags

Here’s a quick breakdown of the ways you can reuse your plastic bags:

  1. Line trash cans and paint trays
  2. Protect plants from frost
  3. Wrap fragile items for packing
  4. Use to scoop doggie poop
  5. Cover your plunger and clean dirty areas
  6. Make it a piping bag
  7. Keep in the car to carry trash or wet items
  8. Turn it into a DIY craft

Even if you plan to dispose of them eventually, try to reuse your plastic bags for as long as you can or store them to reuse them later.

Since they are so compact, you can put them into a drawer or hide them in a trash bag or box under the kitchen sink.

There are many ways you can reuse plastic bags, such as using them to line your trash cans, line a paint tray, or protect your plants from the cold, wind, or frost.

You can also protect your fragile items by wrapping them up in plastic bags if you are storing or moving them. That way you avoid creating more waste by using styrofoam peanuts.

Another convenient way to reuse your plastic bags is to use them while walking your dog. You can avoid spending money on dog poop bags and just reuse the plastic bags you already have.

You can use your plastic bags to cover the plunger to reduce contamination over time.

You can also use it as you clean your bathroom area to keep your hands clean rather than using new plastic gloves.

If you bake, you can turn your old plastic bags into piping bags if they are clean.

Simply pour in frosting, cut a hole at one of the corners, and start squeezing out the frosting to pipe your dessert.

Plastic bags are also useful to keep in the car for a few different uses. You can use it as a trash receptacle during trips or when you’re driving the kids around.

You can also use it to carry wet clothing or items after a day at the water to avoid getting your car wet.

If you forget a reusable bag at home, you can always take an old plastic bag with you instead to carry your groceries.

Lastly, many DIY craft ideas allow you to turn your plastic bags into works of art or practical items around the house like baskets, outdoor pillowcases, bracelets, or lampshades.

Also read: Compostable vs. Biodegradable Trash Bags

Don’t Put Them in Curbside Recycling

At recycling facilities, the bags get tangled with the machinery and end up risking the well-being of the employees.

As we mentioned earlier, many cities do not accept plastic bags in the curbside recycling bin. They can endanger employees when the bags get clogged up in the sorting machinery.

Other flimsier and lightweight plastic items such as bubble wrap, shrink wrap, case wrap, bread bags, and plastic film are not recyclable through city curbside programs.

Why Recycle Plastic Bags?

It might seem like extra work to take it to a grocery store for a special recycling process, but it protects our environment in the long run.

One of the most common contributors to marine debris is plastic bags. At least 8 million tons of plastic end up in the ocean and harm marine life.

On average, about 300 million plastic bags end up in the Atlantic Ocean. Turtles, fish, and birds often mistake them for jellyfish or other types of sea creatures and end up choking on them.

Plastic bags are also not biodegradable, meaning they will remain in a landfill for hundreds of years if not a thousand years, only contributing to environmental pollution.

Unfortunately, of all the plastic bags used in the world, only 1% are recycled properly. The rest of it goes to the landfill or becomes harmful waste in the ocean.

What Happens to Recycled Plastic Bags?

When plastic bags are placed in-store recycling collection bins, they are taken to a facility to be processed. Then they are cut up and melted into plastic pellets in large loads.

Once they have been turned into manageable pellets, they are transferred to another company that turns them into plastic, or composite, lumber.

This recycled plastic lumber is an alternative for wood, concrete, and metals. It’s used to make outdoor furniture such as picnic tables, outdoor decks, benches, lounge chairs, or fences.

They are ideal for the outdoors because they do not deteriorate easily under harsh weather and remain durable over time.

They are also very resistant to insect damage and will not absorb water or rot.

Other benefits of plastic lumber are that it is easily moldable to fit any space and is 100% recyclable after use. It is also much stronger in comparison to wood over a longer period.

Plastic bags may also be reprocessed as new plastic bags, which allows manufacturers to use these new bags instead of manufacturing more with new plastic.

This process lowers the impact of plastic bags on the environment.

Color of Plastic Bags

A little-known fact is that the color of your plastic bags matters when it comes to recycling them at a facility.

When several different plastic bags are reprocessed into pellets, they can come out in darker or lighter colors depending on the bags.

Black and darker bags are more difficult to recycle because of the dye in the plastic. The dye turns pellets into darker colors, which alter the look of plastic lumber.

Black bags are sometimes taken out of recycling collection bins because of the limited reprocessing options.

When you are getting plastic bags from a grocery or liquor store, make sure you only get white or tan bags. Those are easier to recycle and are accepted by all recycling collections.

Preparing Your Bag for Recycling

When it comes to recycling your plastic bag, there are a few steps you need to take to make sure it does not contaminate other bags as it is reprocessed.

First, you need to make sure your plastic bags are not wet or filthy. The bags need to be dry so they don’t contaminate an entire load of plastic.

If your bag is dirty with wet materials, it can also contaminate other plastic bags and make them difficult or unable to be recycled.

Plastic bags also need to be free of any debris or trash. Old receipts, stickers, crumbs, or trash can contaminate the load of bags and make it difficult to recycle smoothly at the facility.


Plastic bags may not be easy to dispose of properly, but they are worth the extra work to avoid negatively impacting the environment.

The best way to dispose of your old plastic bags is to take them to the recycling collection bins in grocery stores so they can be recycled and reprocessed properly.

Not all plastic bags, including those marked with #7, can be recycled.

It’s important to avoid using single-use plastic bags and learn how to properly dispose of your plastic bags when it’s time to get rid of them.

If you have any questions or aren’t sure if your bags can be recycled, call your local waste management facility to see if they can take them.

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