colorful plastic shopping bags on wooden background

Bring back your bags — and more!

Most plastic bags and wraps are made with materials that are recyclable. Unfortunately this doesn’t mean they can go in your curbside recycling bin. Why? Most facilities that manage curbside-collected recyclables use machines to separate rigid materials like cans, bottles or paper products. Due to their size and shape, plastic bags and wraps end up clogging the machinery. Employees must remove the plastic by hand, which is a time-consuming and potentially dangerous task.

So what can you do with them? They can still be recycled, they just require a different system. Many retail  and grocery stores offer free drop-off locations for  bags and films to be properly recycled. All you need to do is make sure the bags and wraps are clean and dry, and that you have removed any non-plastic items such as receipts and labels.

Let’s recap some of the “DOs” and “DON’Ts.”

Please DO recycle:

  • Grocery and retail bags. (Not in your curbside bin, but at a retail or grocery store with a collection bin. Don’t forget to remove the receipts!)
  • Newspaper, bread, produce and dry cleaning bags.
  • The outer wrapping from bulk beverages, napkins, paper towels, bathroom tissue and diapers.
  • Cereal and cracker box liners. (Unless they tear like paper.)
  • Bubble wrap and air pillows. (Pop the bubbles and deflate the pillows.)
  • Resealable storage bags. (Make sure they are clean, dry and don’t have any food residue.)
  • Poly mailers or plastic shipping envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first.)
  • Document mailing/shipping envelopes such as FedEx Paks or Tyvek® envelopes. (Remove the shipping labels first).

Please DON’T recycle:

  • Plastic bags that tear like paper. (Recyclable bags have some stretch to them.)
  • Cellophane. (The plastic that makes a “crinkly” sound.)
  • Frozen food and pre-washed salad bags.
  • Food or cling wrap.
  • Candy wrappers. (You can recycle the bag that the candy came in.)
  • Snack bags, such as pretzels and potato chip bags.
  • Coffee pouches or other resealable food pouches, such as shredded cheese or trail mix.
  • Pet food bags.
  • Zippered packaging for bedding and garments.
  • Biodegradable or compostable bags.

If you come across a bag or film that is not listed above, a simple test will determine whether it is accepted for recycling or not. If you give the bag or wrap a slight tug and it stretches, it is likely recyclable. If it rips or tears similar to paper, it is likely not. When in doubt, don’t include bags or films you are unsure of — toss them into the trash.

Plastic bags and wraps can be recycled into many useful products, such as low-maintenance fencing and decking, building and construction materials and of course, new bags.

So remember, take your bags and wraps back on your next trip to the store!

For more information about plastic bag recycling, visit

Would you like a bag for that?

Blue_reusable_shopping_bag-webFor the record, I normally use cloth bags for my shopping trips. But while vacationing with family this summer, I stopped at a chain pharmacy in Boulder, Colo., to pick up a few forgotten essentials. I decided to ask for a plastic bag to round up the apple cores, banana peels and candy wrappers that had accumulated in the car since our last stop. I was stunned when the clerk informed me that a plastic bag to hold my purchases would cost me an extra dime.

Boulder implemented the bag fee in July. The city council adopted the fee back in November 2012, but the city put off implementation for a few months to allow time to develop an education campaign and for stores to prepare.

Boulder is not alone. My limited research shows that:

  • At least 150 cities and counties across the country have implemented either bag fees or outright bans on plastic bags; 85 of these are in California. San Francisco holds the distinction of being the first city in the nation to ban plastics bags with a 2007 ordinance. In 2012, Los Angeles became the largest city in the nation to approve a ban on plastic bags. A quick tally from a number of sources that track bag ban/fee ordinances indicates that about 50 more cities and counties across the nation are considering or drafting ordinances.
  • The movement to regulate plastic bags is not limited to cities and counties. Hawaii was the first state to ban plastic bags in all counties and a handful of states are considering some form of statewide bans or taxes — most recently Pennsylvania, which is considering a statewide 2-cent fee. Several states have plastic bag labeling, recycling or reuse programs.
  • There have even been a few attempts at the federal level. Most recently, on Earth Day 2013, U.S. Rep. James P. Moran of Virginia introduced a bill to create a national 5-cent tax on all disposable plastic or paper bags provided by stores to customers. Revenue generated from the fee would support the nation’s Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Getting back to my Boulder experience: I went ahead and paid for the bag. So, where did my dime go? Boulder retailers get to keep four cents to cover their costs of administering the program. The county recycling center gets less than a penny to cover the costs of retrieving plastic bags from recycling equipment. The city uses the rest of the money collected from the fee to pay for education and outreach about reusable bags and to cover the costs of free bags that it provides. I considered it a small price to pay.