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How to Recycle Your Plastic Bags

Updated on November 26, 2011

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Plastic bags, as we have all heard, are a huge environmental problem. Since it doesn't appear as though new ones will stop being produced any time soon, it may seem as though the problem will just continue to grow. That all said, there are steps we can all take to reduce the impact those plastic bags have.

What We Can Do

One of the things I believe we can do is re-use our own plastic bags. Why should they be used only once when coming home from the grocery store and then tossed away in the garbage when they can be used for a variety of things? If you are unsure of what else those plastic bags can be used for, try some of these ideas:

  • Leftovers

If you are having some people over or going to a dinner, party, or holiday event, there are times in which guests take home some of the leftovers. One option is to have them use a plate and wrap the plate in something such as tinfoil. Well, tinfoil (or saran wrap) can come loose and cause a mess in the car. (Yes, I have experienced this when taking home leftovers offered by others.) One way to prevent this is by placing all those leftovers into a plastic bag you got from a grocery store. Even if you use containers for leftovers, those tops can easily pop off and still make a mess so why not let the mess happen inside a re-used plastic bag. Even if you are not having or attending a party, you can also use them to wrap up leftovers for yourself to help keep the food fresher by keeping the air out.

  • Trash Bags

We are all looking to save money yet how many of us purchase trash can liners? Why not save all that money and re-use those plastic bags instead? This is also a perfect fit for any bags that may have gotten messed-up with food in the leftovers idea above. We re-use the grocery store plastic bags for our small bathroom trash cans all the time and never purchase small liners. We even use larger plastic bags (from department stores and other such places) that have otherwise outgrown their potential other uses for our main kitchen garbage. They also work great as trash bags for your vehicle!

  • Storage

Another use for plastic bags is storage. If you take out as much air as possible and tie it well, it'll help keep moisture, dust and bugs out. Plastic bags, as we all know, last a really long time and we certainly want what we store items in to last a long time. This again is another way to save money for those who aren't able to purchase storage bins (especially in this economy). Plus, they can help protect delicate items while in storage too.

  • Packing Material

If you need to mail something and the item is either fragile or much smaller than the box, why purchase packing material when you can just as easily use plastic bags? They are readily available, free, and the person you are mailing the item to can re-use or recylce the bags once they receive them!

  • Keep Things Dry in Wet Weather

If you have important papers that need to stay dry, a plastic bag works really well to keep the moisture away. Another use is to keep a bicycle or motorcycle seat dry if you find yourself riding in wet weather. Still another "wacky" idea is to tie one around your head as a make-shift "hood/ hat" if you don't have an umbrella, hat or jacket with you (if you don't mind a few strange looks that is).

  • Pet Waste

If you have a dog, you probably already use plastic bags for this. If you purchase separate plastic bags for this, why not save the money and re-use the grocery store ones instead? Using plastic bags for this also means that you can keep your hands clean since you can stick your hand in, pick up the waste, and then turn the bag the other way. If you have a cat and just need to scoop a few things out of the litter box instead of changing the whole thing, then the grocery store plastic bags work really well for this too.

  • Diapers

When there are little ones running around, there are going to be diapers around at some point. Sure, there are re-usable cloth diapers, but how much water and other resources are used to clean them plus how clean do they truly get? So, yes, we have used disposable diapers. Now, when our little guy was an infant, we used one of those diaper containers that are meant to keep the odor down. Well, if you don't have the diaper in a plastic bag before placing it in there and turning the handle, the container itself gets dirty and is a pain to clean up. Plus, it's best to line the container with a bag too as a lack of one means major cleaning. So instead of spending a lot of money, we just re-used the plastic bags we already had from the grocery store for this.

Though this is not an exhaustive list, it is meant to get you starting to think about all the ways you can re-use those plastic bags instead of just tossing them in the garbage right away. If you would like additional ideas on what to do with those plastic bags, check out the books listed below.

I also recommend using your plastic bags for as many different things as you can first before using them for waste and save the most used ones for waste. That way we all get as much as life as we can out of them before they end up in the landfill. And if the bag gets to the point where it's not usable for anything anymore, including as trash can liners, then consider recycling them instead.

Recycling Plastic Bags

So, now that you've exhausted the use of your plastic bags and they've become unusable, you are left with either throwing them out or recycling them. Since you've already started to recycle them yourself, why not continue that spirit and drop them off at a local recycling collection center. They seem to be getting easier and easier to find as there are new places popping up in at least our area (and I'm sure many other areas too). This, too, will help keep some of them out of landfills.

If you are unsure where you can recycle plastic bags, there are a number of places you can try. In our area, there are bins in the entryways of grocery stores where they can be easily dropped off on your way in to shop. If they don't have one, then you can ask a manager if they either know of a place to recycle them or if they would consider placing a bin in their store. You can also try where they have a directory of places (by state) where you can recycle the bags under their consumer section. You could also try on-line searches, local entities (such as your recycling pick-up company or chamber of commerce), and the phone book.

Where to Store All Those Bags

Now that you've seen how you can re-use plastic bags and where you can recycle them, you might be wondering where you are going to store all these bags until you either reuse or recycle them. They can, after all, pile up quickly and you don't want an overflowing pile!

Sure, you could try a drawer, but drawers are small and that doesn't last long. If you have space, you can try a cabinet or the pantry; but it gets difficult to keep that tidy as the pile grows until you can either use or recycle them.

What I suggest instead are some holders made especially for plastic bags. As you can see to the right, there are a variety of styles to choose from. You can also have more than one to separate what you will reuse from what you will drop off at a recycling center. Plus, these holders make the bags easy to grab on your way out the door!

What's Even Better Than Using Plastic Bags?

Though reusing and recycling plastic bags can certainly help the environmental issue, it's obviously best to use as few as possible. With that in mind, there are plenty of alternatives out there and you can review a few of the choices here on the right of this text.

These types of bags are meant to be reused many more times than a plastic bag can be reused. They are durable and the easiest way to ensure you have them when you are headed to the store is to keep them in your car.

Even if you don't want to use these types of bags, then you can also opt for using paper bags. Paper bags are also recyclable and can also be reused for such things as storing other recyclables in them until they get picked up.

No matter what you decide to do, please think about how you can reduce your impact on the delicate environment. If you have other ideas to share, please discuss below!

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    • Moon Willow Lake profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Willow Lake 

      7 years ago

      Thank-you compactors! Just plain canvas bags are good too!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Reusable bags are the way to go. Actually I like using my big beach bags with the long straps. They hold more and are usually stronger.

    • Moon Willow Lake profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Willow Lake 

      8 years ago

      Thank-you Lady Guinevere! I shared your page on my personal page and my Moon Willow Lake Page for my followers! I will also share your facebook page on our Moon Willow Lake Twitter! Thank you very, very kindly!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      8 years ago from West By God

      I liked your page and added it to my page's favorites.

    • Moon Willow Lake profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Willow Lake 

      8 years ago

      Thank-you much Lady Guinevere! And yes, we are on facebook! We can be found at Moon Willow Lake over there! Thanks for the offer though - that is very kind!

    • Lady Guinevere profile image

      Debra Allen 

      8 years ago from West By God

      Great ideas. Hey are you on facebook? I have just started a new fanpage and you are welome to post your link here to there as well:

    • Moon Willow Lake profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Willow Lake 

      8 years ago

      henry1robertson: It is good to know that there are so many of us that do recycle them! Thanks for stopping by!

    • henry1robertson profile image


      8 years ago from Los Angeles, CA 90013

      Yes you are very correct everyone put lots of effort to recycle the plastic bags..

    • Moon Willow Lake profile imageAUTHOR

      Moon Willow Lake 

      8 years ago

      You are very welcome kashmir56! I am glad to hear you also reuse your bags too! I totally agree they are very useful for many things! Thanks for the comment!

    • kashmir56 profile image

      Thomas Silvia 

      8 years ago from Massachusetts

      Hi Moon Willow Lake thanks for all this great advice and information. I always try to use my plastic bags has many times has i can, they do come in handy at times.

      Great hub!!!


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