If there’s one item that business owners and individuals alike struggle to know how to recycle, it’s plastic bags.

Knowing how to approach plastic bag recycling is confusing for many of us. Should plastic bags, wrap, and film be placed into your curbside recycling bin, or should they be collected and taken to a designated recycling drop-off spot; often located within grocery stores, hardware stores, and independent retailers?

If you run a business that produces large quantities of this type of film plastic, whether in the form of plastic bags, bubble wrap, shrink wrap, and more, you have expanded options for how to recycle plastic bags and other forms of film plastic, including through the use of an on-site baler.

Before you read on, I should caveat that what can be recycled in your city or municipality depends on the rules your city has put in place, and whether they are participating in any external recycling programs. While the plastic bag recycling advice below is generally true across much of the United States, I recommend you reach out to your local recycling provider or call 311 to find out the rules in your area.

Can You Recycle Plastic Bags Curbside?

The short answer is no. Plastic bags and other film plastics, such as shrink wrap, bubble wrap, and other types of plastic film cannot be recycled through most curbside recycling programs.

The reason for this is because the sorting equipment at most materials recovery facilities (MRFs) hasn’t been designed to extract flimsy types of plastic out of the regular recycling stream. As a result, plastic bags and other film plastics that enter an MRF have a tendency to clog the sorting equipment, reducing the lifespan of these machines, slowing down operations, and putting workers at risk as they retrieve the stray plastic.

While some MRFs have undergone testing to determine if it could be possible for them to accept plastic bag recycling further down the line, it will likely be a while before this becomes a common practice.

How to Recycle Plastic Bags and Other Plastic Film

If plastic bags and other types of film plastic cannot be recycled curbside, how can you recycle plastic bags to ensure they stay out of landfills, rivers, and other waterways, and our oceans?

When we look at how to recycle plastic bags, we need to look at it from the point of view of both residential and commercial solutions.

Plastic Bag Recycling for Individuals

If you work from home and you want to do right by the environment, call 311 or search online for guidance on where to take plastic bags and film. Many grocery stores actively accept plastic bags at the front of their stores, which is a great option for many of us.

Due to the COVID-19 public health emergency, once you have found a nearby store to take your plastics I encourage you to call the store to ask if they are currently open and continuing their plastic bag recycling program. If they are, try your best to only make infrequent trips to this location, storing your plastic bags at home for as long as possible before venturing out. The good thing about recycling plastic bags is they compress easily—even in a small apartment, you can likely store many months’ worth of plastic film in a small number of plastic bags hidden under your kitchen sink.

Plastic Bag Recycling for Businesses

To determine if you require a plastic bag recycling solution for your business, you must first analyze your waste stream.

According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 26.8 million tons of plastic went to landfills in 2017, accounting for 19.2 percent of all municipal solid waste (MSW) landfilled. If you are currently sending this material to landfill as part of your MSW, not only will this have a harmful effect on the environment, you could be missing out on the resale value of these plastics into commodity markets.

Industries that generate large amounts of plastic film, such as the wrap you find around pallets, may require a baler in order to sell the plastic as feedstock to end markets for manufacturing new products. When produced in large quantities, plastic film and plastic banding can be baled, stored, and shipped for purchase to be recycled and used in making future products. For example, plastic film can be recycled into pellets and reprocessed into plastic lumber or slip sheets.

For office buildings, a simple break room bin might do the trick. At Rubicon®, we work with each individual customer to develop a customized plastic bag, film, and packaging recycling plan, including all the necessary containers and equipment. If your business is located in a state with mandated recycling requirements, we will ensure your program is set to, or exceeds, regulatory standards.

We also keep an eye on commodity market values and work with local vendors to ensure your business gets the best return on your discarded plastics. Aside from potential revenue opportunities, recycling plastic can help you drive brand affinity by demonstrating sustainable business practices.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle Plastic Bags

Recycling plastic bags and film is only one part of the puzzle when it comes to Rubicon’s mission to end waste, in all of its forms.

At Rubicon, we embrace the “reduce, reuse, recycle” methodology when it comes to waste streams. As a full-service provider of waste and recycling services, our company’s overall scope of commercial waste and recycling solutions includes everything from construction and demolition (C&D) waste removal, food waste and organics recycling, hazardous waste disposal, and more. We focus first on reducing the size of our customer waste streams, before looking at ways in which items can be reused to increase the length of its useful life, before finally turning to recycling solutions.

For more on Rubicon’s waste stream management solutions, download our Waste Stream Management Guide today.

To learn more about Rubicon’s work transforming the entire category of waste and recycling, be sure to download our inaugural environmental, social, and governance (ESG) report.

If you have any questions, or you are interested in learning more about Rubicon’s sustainability services, please contact us today.

Meredith Leahy is a Waste Diversion Manager at Rubicon. To stay ahead of Rubicon’s announcements of new partnerships and collaborations around the world, be sure to follow us on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, or contact us today.