By this stage, leaving the house with a reusable shopping tote feels as second nature as leaving the house with my keys and my phone. I carry an extra grocery bag in my work bag and stash another one in our diaper bag. And yet, in taking a closer look at the waste that our family produces, saying no to plastic shopping bags barely scratches the surface of our plastic bag problem.
This isn’t really news. We know that plastic is used for all kinds of things beyond the ubiquitous shopping tote. Avoiding it is the reason why I don’t buy plastic baggies for snacks, why I opt out of plastic wrap, why I very rarely buy boxed or bagged cereal. It’s why I bring my own bags to the farmers’ market and the bulk section of the grocery store. It’s why I never buy plastic pouches of food for kids. It’s why I try my best to shop locally instead of having too many things shipped with a lot of packaging. But despite those efforts, plastic bags still come filtering into our house.
There’s our pasta habit and the lack of a nearby bulk option. There’s plastic film wrapped around our recycled toilet paper, not a bag precisely, but made of the same stuff. The organic cotton undies I ordered for Faye were packed, incredulously, with plastic film inflated with air for protection from what I’m not sure. There’s that pesky salad mix bag that I sometimes purchase from the nearby famers’ market.
To be sure, there are solutions for avoiding all of these plastics, and reducing its use in the first place is superior to recycling, but acknowledging that those efforts take time and resources that busy families don’t always have, here are a few tips for dealing responsibly with the plastic bags that come into your house despite your best efforts (or your best intentions).
(Nota bene: Recycling is different depending on where you live—and here’s some very strong encouragement to look into what the actual rules are for the place where you are—but here are a few things to know about plastic film recycling in New York City that might well be true where you live, too.)
Recycling your plastic bags with your regular plastics is a no go. Yes, in other words, we should all stop turning a blind eye while shoving our poly bags into our yogurt containers and pretending the Sanitation Department’s gonna do something about it. (For some sobering reading, a list of all of the non-recyclable items can be found right this way.)
But while you can’t include plastic bags, plastic wrap, or dry cleaning covers in your curbside recycling, the New York State’s Plastic Bag Reduction, Reuse and Recycling Act does require certain stores to offer plastic bag recycling. Your chance at redemption! The act applies to retail stores that provide plastic bags to customers and are larger than 10,000 square feet or that have five or more locations larger than 5,000 square feet each. A quick walk around my neighborhood made me realize that there are lots of these kinds of receptacles inside the front entrances of very nearby stores: Rite Aid, Barnes and Noble, another Rite Aid. You get the idea.
Stores like this are responsible for ensuring that the plastic they collect is actually recycled. An extensive list of all plastics that are recyclable at plastic bag collection points can be found here. Here’s a short list of what these stores have to accept:
Plastic retail bags with string ties and rigid plastic handles removed
Plastic newspaper bags
Plastic dry-cleaning bags
Plastic produce bags with all food residue removed
Plastic bread bags with all food residue removed
Plastic cereal bags with all food residue removed
Plastic frozen food bags with all food residue removed
Plastic wrap from paper products (paper towels, toilet paper, etc.)
Plastic stretch/shrink wrap with all food residue removed
Plastic zipper-type bags
And so? There’s now a thin tote hanging in my closet, getting slowly filled with whatever plastic film it is that manages to find its way into our house. When it gets filled up, I’ll tromp down to the local big box store and fill up their bin. You might give it a try, too.
What about the other stuff? Alas, alack, plastic soil bags don’t make the cut. Neither do cellophane chip bags. MEA CULPA, but I’m terribly guilty of ripping through a bag of potato chips during particularly hungry commutes home. But! While the trouble might be enough to finally get me to kick the habit altogether, foil bags like those used to package potato chips can actually be recycled through Terracycle. (Along with everything else under the sun. They even recycle…wait for it…used chewing gum.) Their free recycling programs for hard-to-recycle items are listed here (and include toothpaste container recycling, contact lens packaging, energy bar wrappers, snack bags, etc…).
Helpful? Other recycling minutiae plaguing you guys these days?