By far the most popular question I get right now is for help with plastic bags and films. There are many types and people are overwhelmed. It is confusing, there are lots of types, and the directions change a bit to try and correct contamination levels. I’m going to share with you all what I use to do the best I can. All we can do is our best, and to continue to write companies to streamline plastic types, with labels, for easier recycling
The primary source shared by Austin Resource Recovery is from plasticfilmrecycling.org. https://www.plasticfilmrecycling.org/recycling-bags-and-wraps/plastic-film-education-individuals/ will get you started recycling as an individual.
Plasticfilmrecycling.org, listed above, first introduces us to the How2Recycle Label. This label would be so incredibly helpful to us individuals, but we need to push companies to use it. Some are like my preferred yogurt brand, and I’ve seen several disposable diaper companies now include this label on their products. As an aside, tons of diapers end up in recycling carts all over this country. They are not recyclable. Please put disposable/single-use diapers in the trash. Even ones that say compostable are usually not allowed at your local commercial composting facility (they’re not allowed in Austin), but always ask to confirm. So the How2Recycle Label tells you what all the components of a package are made of and how to recycle them. It’s great! Look for products with the label, consider thanking those companies for helping their consumers, and write to the companies you currently purchase from to encourage/request they begin using the How2Recycle Label for improved recycling content and to fulfill customer demand.
Those websites listed above are my go-to to share with people when they ask for more information on plastic bag and plastic film recycling. I will usually click over to How2Recycle Label first because the pictures are bigger and I get a quicker snapshot. Both sites will help you find local drop-off stations, though most major retailers that give out plastic bags have an in-store plastic bag recycling station. All the approved types can typically be dropped off at this stations as most processing is run by the same companies.
Small oranges and onions that come in these plastic mess bags go in the trash. They are not recyclable and don’t hold up well in reuse. They shed microplastics all over the place so if you are able to avoid them it would be cleaner. I haven’t found these small oranges loose, and when I have it’s because the store workers cut the bags open and dumped them out for people who don’t want a full bag. I’ll keep working on this topic as we love the little oranges and would love to find a good solution.
– Bags and film should be clean and dry, and free of the paper labels. “When in doubt, toss it out” and save the quality of the recycling stream.
– “If you can stretch the film or push your finger through and stretch it then it’s likely polyethylene and can be included in plastic bag drop-off” per plasticfilmrecycling.org.
Plastic grape bags, plastic apple bags, most produce bags (if allowed because most are not) are going to be too sticky and should go in the trash.
If you can’t pull the paper mail label off your plastic packages, cut it off and throw the papery-type bit in the trash and recycle the rest of the plastic mail packaging. See my post on Amazon mailers here.
A example of my family’s plastic bag recycling can be found at It’s a Filmy Situation.
My post on general recycling confusion and questions can be found here.
1) Recyclables should be loose in the blue single-stream recycling carts. No bagged recycling, it’s pulled of the sorting line and trashed. This is the case for most cities that provide single-stream (everything mixed together) recycling. I am still waiting on a response from the City of Richardson, Texas on how their bagged program works and I’ll share that information when I have it.
2) No plastic bags of any kind go in the blue recycling carts. Plastic bags are soft plastic, filmy, and they are called “tanglers”in the recycling industry and get stuck, shredded and jam traditional single-stream recycling sorting machines. They must be recycled separately from hard plastics, those items that go in the single-stream recycling carts, and therefore bags and film should be taken either to an in-store drop-off bin or the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center in Austin.
It’s not always possible to purchase items without plastic bags or film. It’s something to strive for, buying loose and in cardboard or metal, but if you do have plastic bags and film, at least we can recycle them responsibly and efficiently.
I hope this helps. Besides Austin’s curbside recycling carts and the Recycle & Reuse Drop-off Center , the next big impact in our home waste we can take is recycling plastic bags and film. You’ll be surprised the number of items you can recycle and how your trash will shrink. I’ll be talking more about reusables and alternative purchasing options like bulk and paper all this year.