Everyone knows that we should carry reusable bags to the grocery store, but plastic grocery bags seem to pile up nonetheless. Who doesn’t have a kitchen drawer or cupboard exploding with bags? At Cash4Books, we encourage customers to re-use clean plastic bags as a packing material in their book shipments. The bags are then collected and recycled with EnviroFiber, a local recycling company.
This had me wondering what happens to the plastic once it’s picked up? In doing a bit of research, I’ve found some surprises about the recyclability of plastic bags and other thin plastics. Although most home-pickup recyclers do not accept plastic bags (since they can get caught in and ruin machinery) many grocers now have collection containers destined for plastic recycling specialists.
1. Plastic Lumber
Melted plastic bags and sawdust can be combined to make composite lumber. This is actually the most common reuse for plastic bags. This new material is used to make door frames, outdoor decks, tables and benches. The composite of two recycled materials keeps trees in the ground and plastic out of the trash.
2. Plastic Batteries
Illinois based Chemist Vilas Ganpat Pol recently discovered a process to create carbon nanotubes from waste plastic. In this example of “up-cycling” (recycling waste into a more valuable product), plastic bags can ultimately be made into lithium-ion batteries. Really.
3. On your way to recycle used grocery bags? Include these too!
All clean, dry bags labeled #2 or #4 can be recycled along with plastic grocery bags. This includes:
♦ Newspaper bags, Dry cleaning bags, produce bags & bread bags
♦ Cereal box liners
♦ Shipping envelopes
♦ Plastic wrap around paper towels, napkins & toilet paper
♦ Clean zip-lock bags (with the hard plastic removed)
4. Room for Improvement
According to the EPA, only 12% of used plastic bags were recycled in 2007.
5. On the Bright Side
A recent survey revealed that 90% of Americans reuse their plastic shopping bags, mostly to replace garbage liners, lunch bags, and pet waste bags. The reuse of each plastic bag prevents a second bag from being purchased for a single purpose.
The bottom line: should we try to keep plastic bags out of the waste stream (not to mention the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”) by carrying reusable totes? Yes. Will we always remember to bring them shopping? Probably not. But we can recycle what accumulates, and the manufacturing industry is coming up with some pretty interesting ways to reuse the single use bag.