Are Paper Bags Recyclable?

Earth Day is in the Bag – Disposing of Plastic and Paper Bags

Here at TDS, we receive numerous inquiries about the recyclability of different types of bags. With the wide range of options available, it’s understandable that people can feel perplexed. This is why recycling education matters so much, and why we’ve created this guide. Keep reading to find out if your paper or plastic bag can be recycled.

Are Paper Bags Recyclable?

In general, paper bags can be recycled as long as they are free from contaminants like grease, food residue, or ink. In fact, many paper bags already contain recycled materials. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that approximately 37% of the raw materials used to manufacture new paper products in the US are sourced from recycled materials.

However, it’s important to note that not all paper bags are recyclable. Let’s take a closer look at the most common types of paper bags and their eligibility for recycling:

  • Brown paper bags – Recyclable, as long as they are free from contaminants.
  • Food delivery and takeout bags – Recyclable, if free from contaminants.
  • Paper shopping bags – May be recyclable; it’s best to check with your local waste disposal company.
  • Bakery bags – These bags are lined with wax or plastic and are not recyclable.
  • Gift bags – May be recyclable; it’s best to check with your local waste disposal company.

Recycled paper bags should be clean, dry, and have only paper handles. Handles made from other materials like plastic, string, or ribbon should be removed. If you are uncertain about whether a particular type of paper bag can be recycled, contact your local recycling provider.

Are Plastic Bags Recyclable?

Plastic bags may be recyclable, but specific guidelines usually apply. Here is a list of the most common types of bags that can be recycled but are not permitted in curbside pickup:

  • Single-use plastic bags
  • Reusable plastic bags
  • Ziploc bags
  • Bread and food bags
  • Newspaper bags

In general, you should not put any type of plastic bag into your recycling bin for curbside pickup. The thin and flexible plastic used in these bags can cause significant problems at recycling centers. Many recycling facilities, including our own TDS Materials Recovery Facility, utilize single-stream recycling, where all recyclables are placed in the same bin and sorted either manually or by complex machines. These machines are not efficient at sorting plastic bags, and bags can even become tangled in the machines, leading to the operation being halted to cut the bags loose.

While plastic bags cannot be placed in your household recycling cart, there are other options available. Some retailers have partnered with organizations such as How2Recycle, which offer in-store plastic bag recycling drop-off bins. There are over 18,000 stores in the US that accept plastic bags for recycling. Find a location near you by visiting this store locator.

Reusable Bags are the Most Sustainable Option

Recycling technology has made significant advancements. Before plastic bag recycling became widely available, the only option was to throw them away, contributing to the accumulation of non-biodegradable waste in landfills. Now, more paper and plastic products are being repurposed than ever before. For instance, a recycled single-use plastic bag can be transformed into synthetic lumber used to make a park bench!

These new innovations have expanded our society’s recycling capabilities, but we should all still strive to extend the lifespan of our disposable bags as much as possible, or even better, make the switch to reusable bags.

Reusable bags are durable, washable, and reliable. They also help reduce our reliance on single-use bags, thus saving energy and reducing air, water, and land pollution associated with their production. Make the switch easier by keeping reusable bags in convenient locations like your car, purse, or garage, so you never forget them when leaving the house.

To learn more about recycling and sustainability, visit our blog.