Looking for Clarity in Recycling Plastic Bags

By George Stubbs

Due to a new city ordinance, local retailers like Whole Foods and Shaw’s market can no longer distribute plastic bags to take home your groceries, but plastic bags still find their way into our lives, and they need to be recycled properly. These two merchants, at least, are still providing bins at their stores here in Melrose where you can return those bags.

But have you ever wondered exactly which kinds of bags to return? Is it just the plastic bags you receive at checkout? Or can you also return the bags that your bread comes in? How about Ziploc bags?

On the “Because You Asked” page at its web site, New York City-based waste management innovator RecycleBank recently attempted to offer some clarity on the subject. In addition, the American Chemistry Council—which of course wants us to keep buying plastic products—provides advice on recycling plastic bags through its PlasticFilmRecycling.org web site.

As RecycleBank notes, what the grocery stores are accepting for recycling is polyethylene film of various types, including high-density polyethylene (HDPE, or #2 plastic) and low-density polyethylene (LDPE, or #4 plastic). But there are other types of plastic film products that are acceptable as well. The bags your bread often comes in are a good example. You can recycle Ziploc bags as well.

Other examples include newspaper bags and dry-cleaning bags. Also, the “product overwrap”—the plastic film that wraps a multipack of, say, paper towels—is acceptable, according to the American Chemistry Council. Similarly, you can recycle the case wrap that your 24-pack of bottled water comes in—but do consider the alternative of a reusable water bottle). Produce bags can also be recycled, but again, there are alternatives. Several vendors, such Earthwise and EcoBags, offer washable cloth bags for your produce.

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Bags for frozen vegetables are not acceptable. The plastic films used to make these bags contain additives that are designed to protect the food but render them inappropriate for reprocessing. You can cut down on the purchase of frozen vegetables by purchasing fresh produce and storing it in Ziplocs or similar food storage bags.

Remember, whatever type of plastic bag or wrapping you’re trying to recycle, make sure it’s clean, dry, and free of food residue. And please: never put plastic bags in your curbside recycling bin. They gum up the works at most materials recycling facilities, including the one that serves Melros

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