PLEASE DO NOT PLACE PLASTIC BAGS OR OTHER PLASTIC FILM IN CURBSIDE RECYCLING CARTS OR RECYCLING DUMPSTERS! Recyclables should go into recycling containers loose, not bagged.
Why the all-caps and red font? Plastic bags are the #1 contaminant at recycling facilities where they can cause major problems by tangling up in conveyor belts and other machine parts.
Employees at a recycling facility work to remove plastic film from an off-line machine that
has been jammed (Photo: WM)
Recycling Flexible Plastic
Flexible plastic packaging, like resealable bags and pouches, has become very popular in recent years. The massive growth in online shopping has resulted a big increase in the use of plastic shipping material, like mailer sleeves and air-filled pouches used for padding. Many (but not all) plastic bags and films are recyclable, but only at store drop-boxes.
- Jewel-Osco (often outdoors, under the front awning)
- Lowes (indoors, front vestibule)
- Woodmans (indoors, front vestibule)
Although both Target and Wal-Mart have drop bins for plastic bags, we cannot currently recommend them due to a recent Chicago-area news investigation
that found more times than not, plastic bags taken to these stores were sent to landfills or other locations with no film plastic recovery.
Drop-box for plastic film at a local grocery store
Preparing Plastic Bags & Film to Drop-Off
Good to Recycle at Store Drop-Offs:
Plastic bags for drop-off have to be empty, clean and dry. Certain bags are not desired at drop-offs because they can't practicably be cleaned well enough to be recycled or pose a health hazard to workers. These include bags used to package soil, mulch and fertilizer and film used to wrap raw meat. Wet material should be dried off before drop-off (drip drying on a dish rack usually works). The drying step is important because one of the main uses of recycled film plastic is as an ingredient in composite lumber, which has very strict moisture specifications.
What's In & What's Out?
The drop-off programs are designed to take film made from two different types of polyethylene plastic: high density polyethylene (HDPE), a.k.a. plastic #2, and low density polyethylene (LDPE), a.k.a. plastic #4. This accounts for an enormous amount of flexible plastic, but there are many items made from other materials. Plastic food pouches that are rigid enough to stand up on their own are usually made of polypropylene (a.k.a. plastic #5). There is currently no ability to recycle flexible polypropylene, and these should be placed in trash. Some flexible plastic packaging is made from "other" plastic, a.k.a. plastic #7. An example is compostable pet waste bags made of polylactic acid (PLA), which falls under the umbrella of #7. Again, these are not recyclable and should be thrown in the trash. There is also multi-layered flexible packaging like chip bags and candy bar wrappers. These are also non-recyclable and should be placed in trash.
- Grocery and other retail single use bags, any color
- Newspaper bags and magazine sleeves
- Produce and bulk food bags
- Bread bags
- Overwraps from paper towels, napkin, and toilet paper
- Case wrap (around cases of bottled water, drinks, or snacks)
- Plastic dry cleaning bags
- Plastic shipping envelopes and fully plastic bubble mailers. Shipping labels can be cut off or left on for recycling.
- Zip top and fold over sandwich/food storage bags
- Stretch film and pallet wrap
- Air pillows (best to deflate first) and bubble wrap
- Cereal box liners
- Bags for water softener salt and pavement deicing salt
- If in doubt, look for #2 or #4. Also, if you take the item in both hands and pull at it, it should stretch a little. If it has no stretch, it's best to put it in trash.
Do NOT Recycle the following - place in trash:
- NO bags or pouches labeled #5 or #7
- NO frozen food bags
- NO salad mix bags
- NO pet food bags
- NO chip bags or candy wrappers
- NO mesh produce bags
NO cellophane sheets or bags
- NO mixed material (paper outside/bubble wrap inside) padded mailers
- NO vinyl table cloths, shower curtains, bedding or linen packaging, or banners
- NO mulch or soil bags
- NO packaging that was used to wrap raw meat
- NO six pack rings (see the hard to recycle A-Z list for these)
- NO compostable plastic bags
- NO PPE items like masks, face shields, etc.
In February of 2023, the Illinois Recycling Foundation
hosted a webinar on plastic film issues. Topics discussed included the Chicago single use bag tax, grocery store drop off programs, and how bags are used to make composite lumber. See the video of the webinar here