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Casa Verde: Recycling Plastic Shopping Bags

I try to always carry my groceries in cloth bags, but despite my best efforts, I still end up with plastic shopping bags from time to time. There are plenty of ways to reuse them — as trash can liners and dog-poo holders, for instance — but even then, the bags still end up in landfills, where they can take months to hundreds of years to break down.

The best option, of course, is not using plastic bags in the first place, but if you can't cut them out entirely, you should definitely recycle them. For a primer on what can be recycled and where to take it,

Though most curbside recycling services don't handle plastic bags, many cities have drop-off centers for type 2 and 4 plastics. Most grocery bags are made from type 2 HDPE, or high-density polyethylene, and many supermarkets have bins where you can deposit these and other retail bags; just be sure to remove any string or handles.

Some drop-off centers also accept type 4 bags, which include dry-cleaning films, paper towel and toilet paper wraps, and newspaper bags. The key is finding a location nearest you and knowing what plastics they accept. Plastic Bag Recycling has an extensive list of drop-off centers, and Earth 911 lets you enter your zip code to search for different plastic recyclers in your area.


Join The Conversation
Arielrb38 Arielrb38 10 years
If you're feeling particularly crafty you can also knit or crochet more durable/ reusable bags out of plastic grocery bags. There are a number of ways to do this, but I especially like this tutorial on making "plastic bag yarn" .
rnewbill rnewbill 10 years
I think governments need to put it into law that plastic bags need to be banned or severely limited. If I remember right Portland, Oregon bans styrofome to go containers. People will adjust to the changes eventually.
Glittersniffer Glittersniffer 10 years shows you how to make crocheted bags (think totes for lugging things about) out of plastic bags. Kinda awesome, if you ask me. I got an Anya Hindmarch bag 'cause I had the option (they did an internet lottery for them, and my name was drawn), but I'd rather carry something I made!
lizzylu49 lizzylu49 10 years
I forgot to add... San Francisco just banned plastic grocery bags, so other cities may (or may not) be far behind.
lizzylu49 lizzylu49 10 years
A few years ago, my brother worked at Safeway (a large chain grocery store, for those who don't know) and he said that they actually throw the "recycled" bags away! I just tool the pluge and purchased inexpensive (and might I add very cute!) bags at Trader Joes recently. I had a huge cart full of groceries, so I assumed I'd need at least six of them, but as it turned out, I only needed four. You'd be suprised how much they hold. LOVE these: (see photo!)
pinupsweetheart pinupsweetheart 10 years
I just started using enviosacks and I LOVE THEM! You can find them at They are fantastic and roll up into a little ball. Instead of using 8 little plastic bags, I only use 3. They HOLD so much and I get a 5 cent discount when I use them.
JaimeLeah526 JaimeLeah526 10 years
The best option is to not use them at all. You can also reuse them in your house or bring some to the store with you to reuse. Buy cloth bags and try to remember to bring them with you or leave them in your car or purse.
Equita Equita 10 years
casasugar: great post! I agree that no matter how hard you try, there are always those times when you're without a reusable bag at the supermarket. It didn't seem to be that wasteful because we always put them to use, replacing larger trash bags or putting out the recycling for pick up (you know that our local recycling dept tell city residents in their info materials to place items in "blue" bags for pickup which are the shopping bags of our major local supermarket chain). Caterpillargirl, I also have a cat and relied on the bags to clean her litter box. But, I decided to cut them out completely instead of finding reuses. Like casasugar said, reusing doesn't cut out the bags trip to the landfill, only delays their arrival. Along with carrying sturdy, reusable bags in my car and purse, I always keep a medium size cardboard box in my car. Envirosax are functional (sturdy and small enough to carry along everywhere) and really cute. ChicoBags are a similar option, they're very compact and are also affordable. Another great resource is Ecobags. Their mesh bags are great for produce and trips to the farmers market. I love their smaller produce bags that offer the same convenience as plastic produce bags in supermarkets but are made from organic cotton. Green, eco-friendly and, they're made under fair trade / sweatshop-free conditions. If the bags aren't enough to hold my purchases, I wheel the shopping cart out to the car and fill up the box. Our local food coop offers customers boxes from their shipments and I know membership shopping like Costco does too. If you bike, a well placed crate can make the travel easier and save on the bags. Back to the cat litter issue, I've found a few natural alternatives that use pine, wheat, corn, yucca. They cut down on odor and since they're natural, you can flush the clumps. Now we're using One Earth Cat Litter which is made from yucca and its our favorite so far. re: the looks and attitude, I definitely know what you all mean. Now, instead of letting it make me feel uncomfortable, I tell the person/people why I'm doing it. I've been surprised with some really nice conversations. and more people are aware, with more Ikeas, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's offering cheap reusable shopping bags.
beingtazim beingtazim 10 years
i know what you mean Casa! I take my own bags to the store as well but sometimes i end up buying groceries when i hadn't planned to and i don't have any bags with me - i like that places offer cheap reusable bags these days and charge for plastic ones! so great! i, too get a weird look at times for having a bag with me to put things in - not usually at the grocery store but elsewhere. i like to put things in my backpack when i am on my way home from univ. but that gets even weirder looks!
millarci millarci 10 years
That is great information. I didn't think about how the plastic bags need to break down and how long it takes to do so. I've been using plastic bags for trash bags for years. Maybe it's time to change to cloth bags. jenb, thanks for the tip about the Envirosax bags. I will keep that in mind.
c0rkie c0rkie 10 years
thank you!
jenb jenb 10 years
Wingweaver - I can understand what you're saying about you traveling further and it seeming like you use too many to lug around totes, but you should check out the Envirosax bags out there, as 5 totes store in a small pouch the size of a checkbook, and EACH tote holds the equivalent of over 2 normal plastic bags... so the set of 5 totes actually is like using 10 plastic grocery bags. It may be just what you need to go ecofriendly. I'm sure there are other styles out there similar as well by now, but I know this style in particular and it works well for large grocery shopping trips. I love the Fred Meyer idea - I think it is great that they can make park benches out of the nasty plastic ones. What better way to feel good about what you're doing than to sit on a "recycled" park bench and watch Mother Nature that you're helping to save by using the totes or at least recycling the others when you have to use them!!! Too great... :)
karisaamy karisaamy 10 years
I always take my bags to Fred Meyer, they make benches for the local parks out of them. Also Fred Meyer sell reuseable bags taht we are slowly stocking up on, they only cost 99 cents, and when you used them Fred Meyer gives you .05 cents back each time. So really you are making money on the bag and helping out the enviroment.
libs1dlab libs1dlab 10 years
I've used them as packing materials. They also can be used to puff up balloon valances if you like that look (I personally don't). I also keep a few in the van for trash and muddy shoes/accident, etc.
CaterpillarGirl CaterpillarGirl 10 years
I use them to change my kitties litter box. I would be lost without them.
sparkle9152 sparkle9152 10 years
I had been hoarding my plastic grocery bags in a closet for about a year until it got to be overwhelming. Cashiers at the store give me a strange look if I bring my own bags or even if I tell them to pack things heavier. I did find that some grocery stores in the area have a plastic bag recycling program. Do you think they really recycle them? How easy is it for a store to recycle bags?
kondrik kondrik 10 years
I have a huge cloth bag that i use for grocery shopping but i still get some plastic bags (to divide my veggies when grocery shopping for example). I recycle all plastic bags; in our area we have several grocery stores that have plastic bag recycling bins, so that works out fine, but i don't see anyone using cloth bags in my area :( Wish more people would do that...
gatsby-esque gatsby-esque 10 years
When I lived in Ireland, they had a 10 cent tax on plastic bags as a disincentive to using them. Almost everyone who went grocery shopping used cloth reusable bags! The money collected from the plastic bag tax went to government initiatives on the enviroment. What a great idea!
splayer splayer 10 years
Everyone should definitely buy reusable bags. Wegmans sells them for $0.99! Our planet is definitely worth it.
allisonblue allisonblue 10 years
What awesome information! The government in Ireland actually charges consumers about 22 cents per plastic bag (and spends the money on eco-friendly initiatives) to curb plastic bag use. San Francisco, Rwanda, Zanzibar, and the towns of Coles Bay in Australia and Modbury in England have banned plastic bags. I hope that one day more cities and countries will follow suit -- plastic bags are terrible, and so unnecessary! Cloth rocks!
hestadalen hestadalen 10 years
I've noticed that the grocery stores in my city have started to sell durable reusable bags at the register for 99 cents apiece. I try to bring my old grocery bags back to the store, along with cloth bags. I have to go to conferences for my job, so I have a ton of cloth bags, which are always giveaways at the conferences. And cloth bags are always an easy find at the thrift store--just pop them in the washer when you get home and they're ready to head to the grocery store with you!
wingweaver wingweaver 10 years
I like the idea of using cloth bags, but it's just not realistic for me. I live in a very small town (pop. 2000) and do the majority of my grocery shopping 75 miles away. I usually have 8-10 bags of groceries at a time. I do use the plastic bags for garbage liners tho.
cleegiants cleegiants 10 years
i used to work for a landfill/recycling facility and although the garbage bags say they're recyclable, they were tossed at the recycling plant. a lot of it has to do w/ the amount of bags it would take to make a "bale" of the materials. the low weight of plastic bags and its ability to compact so much would really create a lot of work for the sorters at the recycling station. when anybody asked, we always recommended that people use reuseable bags OR for the bags they did have, take them back to the grocery store.
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