It’s a Filmy Situation

Recycling plastic bags and plastic film

One of the areas that I think is often overlooked in educating citizens is plastic bag and plastic film recycling. Per Austin Resource Recovery (ARR), these are “Those materials you can push your finger through that cannot be recycled in your blue [recycling] bins.”

Plastic bags and plastic film can be recycled at grocery store locations such as HEB and Central Market, along with Targets, Walmarts, Home Depot etc. and according to ARR most all are run by the same entity. PlasticFilmRecycling.org, supported by the Flexible Film Recycling Group (FFRG) of the American Chemistry Council has made a super informative site including the big “Do Not Includes.”

If you’re in Austin, Texas these items may also be taken to the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center. City-specific sites outside of Austin referencing plastic bags and film are listed below; however in general you can’t recycle these items in curbside carts or in apartments. You’ll need to make the effort and hit a store on your errand run.

America Recycles Day has conveniently published a PDF explaining this process. I printed out the last page of the PDF and have it posted in my pantry. I posted a copy in my parents’ pantry too right over their collection bag (which is next to their trash and recycling) so they can check it each time they go to throw away something.

Items that we use that go in our plastic bag collection are:

  • Supplement and pill seals (not the inside preservation seal, that is trash)
  • Air pillows that come with mail orders (pop them first: I use a utility knife to slit and squeeze the air out)
  • Zippered bags/food storage bags e.g. Ziploc (rinse and dry first, I run water through, dump, then reverse the bag to dry)
  • Clear bags from mailed items or store bought items that “protect” the item/keep it clean
  • # 1, #2 or #5 shopping bags from collections from neighbors.  We use canvas bags ourselves to shop.
  • Meat bags, if they’re the strong type (#4), that prevent meat juices leaking all over your stuff.
    • I tried to avoid these but it got so bad leaking through the canvas bag and onto multiple other canvas bags that I use the #4 strong bag and reuse it until it needs a final rinse, dry and recycle.
    • We cannot bring our own containers to the meat counters in Austin. I’ll have to check if it’s a Texas law and I’ll keep you posted.
  • Produce bags (make sure there is no produce still inside like leaf bits, or stickers)
  • Cereal bags (rinse and dry first)
  • Diaper wrapper (product overwrap) that holds the group or package together
  • Bags from insulin needles
  • Bread bag  (rinse and dry first, I run water through, dump, then reverse the bag to dry)
  • Bubble wrap
  • Bath tissue wrapper (product overwrap)
    • I’ve had issues with my Subscribe and Save plastic-free choice not being available on Amazon so right now this is what I get.
  • Banded wrappers from Sunrise Energy Bars from Costco
  • The film off of tomatoes and a mixed greens/salad box
  • Carrot bags, the thick ones, the thinner ones are usually too dirty to be a cleaned source for recycling
  • Prescription bag (HEB and Costco now use plastic bags to check out)
  • Stickers envelope (holds the sheets of stickers at the craft store)
  • Flower bouquet wrapper
Recycling can then
tiny garbage can on top of plastic bags/film can

I have two ways I collect this. I have a running bag in the house under our trash can. I empty the trash daily in our outside/curbside cart and the plastic film collects squashed underneath. Once the plastic film causes the trash can to rise too high, I empty it into a larger bag or exchange it for another bag. The fuller bag goes in our garage until I’m ready to make my monthly trip to the Austin Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center.

The closest store to me that “accepts” plastic bags is HEB; however its plastics bin is labeled as accepting both plastic bags and bottles in the same bin. As I know of no city, contractor, etc. that accepts plastic film with rigid plastics in it’s automated sorting process, I do not use HEB for plastic film collection. I tried my Target; however our Target’s collection bin is always packed to the brim and/or overflowing. I’ve been to other Targets where that’s not the case but it is with ours so I pass. There are other grocery stores in the area (another HEB, Central Market, etc.) that accept the bags and film; however as I usually make a run to the Drop-off Center once a month for Styrofoam anyway, I just hold it now. I am fortunate to have the room in my garage to do so. If you do not, I recommend collecting in smaller grocery size bags and running it in when you run errands. An ARR staff member also recommended collecting the pill/supplement seals in a water bottle and then you could just throw the whole bottle in the recycling cart.

City of Austin, TX: Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center for Plastic Bags/Plastic Film
City of New Braunfels, TX: “No Plastic Bags”
City of Round Rock, TX: “No plastic bags (Please take to your local grocer or reuse at home)”
City of San Marcos, TX: ” Plastic bags may be recycled in designated plastic bag return containers at the entrance at major retailer stores”
City of Mason, OH: The provider/contractor does not offer guidance. See options listed above. One of the chain stores listed above is recommended.

Zero Waste/Ethical Points:

  • We are omnivores. Unfortunately Austin does not allow us to bring our own containers to get meat from the counter so we have meat waste to sort.
  • We tried cloth diapers but for our family’s situation and stress levels, we use disposable.
  • The volume of certain foods we go through like carrots and salad greens make the plastic container options more economical. We continue to research and improve our options for produce, variability, eating local and returning to zero waste.