Dear Recycling Bins: Our Weekly Recycling Advice Column
Welcome to our weekly advice column where we look at all things recycling and give you the answers you’re desperately seeking.
Dear Recycling Bins,
I’m writing to ask you what’s the deal with plastic bags? Okay, I admit that I forget my reusable bags sometimes when I go to the supermarket, and I have to either buy new ones or settle for the 5p ones that are adding to the considerable bundles I have in my kitchen cupboard. If they’re worth 5 or 10p each, I reckon I have the cash equivalent of a week in Tenerife in the cupboard under my sink!
Anyway, I digress. The main thing I want to know is can they be put in the recycling?
Girl slowly drowning in a sea of plastic bags
Dear slowly drowning,
The short answer to your question is that soft plastics, like those that make up plastic bags aren’t widely recycled in most kerbside recycling schemes.
Plastic carrier bags are usually made of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE), and they are difficult to recycle. Because they are lightweight and thin, they can easily be blown into areas in recycling facilities where they’re not supposed to be, and they can also get easily caught in machinery. Most of the machinery in processing facilities is designed to separate and process rigid materials like cans, bottles, paper, and card.
If plastics are mixed with other materials, they’re tough to separate, they can jam machinery, and make the recycling process more difficult and expensive. As a result, they’re often sent to landfill as waste, or even worse, they can make their way into the environment including the oceans where they can trap, injure, or kill marine animals.
The best thing to do is remember your reusable bags when you go to the supermarket. If you find that you often forget them, leave a few in your car, or hanging by the front door so you remember them on your way out.
If you want to start recycling some of the bags you’ve collected in your impressive kitchen cupboard pile though, you can. There are recycling bins and banks for plastic bags in many towns and cities, and some retailers actually take them back for recycling. As well as your standard plastic bags, you’ll often find that bread bags, fruit and veg bags, and other types of plastic wrapping are accepted too. Do this if you really want to recycle and your plastic bags will be turned into playground equipment, plastic crates, piping, and new plastic bags.
Hope this helps,