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How Do Supermarkets Recycle Plastic Bags? (Explained)

By Ferdi Vol
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Recycling your plastic bags is one of the first steps you can take if you are trying to live an environmentally conscious life. Did you know that you can help supermarkets recycle plastic bags? If you find this piece of information surprising, you may wonder, “how do supermarkets recycle plastic bags?”.

Supermarkets provide collection bins, where you can drop off your plastic bags. Then they dispatch bulks of plastic bags to recycling centers. There, the plastic bags are mixed with wooden scraps like saw dust, melted and transformed into reusable plastic products. 

But, there is much more to know about plastic bag recycling, than this. If you want to know more about how supermarkets recycle plastic bags, please read on till the end.   

Do Supermarkets Actually Recycle Plastic Bags? 

To answer your question, yes, they do. If you are a conscious grocery shopper, you may have noticed the plastic bag collection bins in your supermarket.  Any supermarket or grocery store that provides these bins do recycle plastic bags.

For example, Roundy’s Supermarket Inc. not only collects plastic bags from 150 grocery stores but also has a whole center for recycling them. 

Usually, supermarkets send used plastic bags to recycling centers. In California, Roplast Industries Inc. is a recycling center that purchases low-density polyethylene bags and films from supermarkets. 

Later, recycling companies transform plastic bags collected from supermarkets into picnic tables, new bags, park benches, or outdoor decks. For example, Roplust Industries Inc. recycles low-density polyethylene into reusable, printed shopping bags. 

If you are still not convinced about supermarkets actually recycling plastic bags or not, read on. In the later sections of this article, you will find out the whole process of how plastic bags are collected from supermarkets and recycled in recycle centers.

How do Supermarkets Recycle Plastic Bags?

Most supermarkets collect reused plastic bags in collection bins and then dispatch them to a recycling center. These centers mix the plastic bags with wood pulp and melt them till they fuse together. 

After collecting reused plastic bags from collection bins, some supermarkets make sure that the bags are clean. They ensure that the plastic bags are dry and do not contain any leftover food, or liquid.

If your plastic bags or films are not clean, then they will ruin the whole batch of reused plastic to be recycled. If that happens an entire batch of plastic items will become landfill waste and in turn harming the environment. It is better if you clean your plastic bags yourself, before recycling them.

Some companies like Novotex, ensure the cleanliness of plastic bags before recycling them. They submerge the plastic bags in float sinks tanks, where the bags float up while all pulps sink. Thus, this new technology helps them to separate receipts and other contaminating papers from plastic bags.

After collection, supermarkets dispatch plastic bags to recycling centers, where they are turned into composite lumber, new plastic bags, or used in the field of Nanotechnology.

In recycle centers, plastic bags are chipped into tiny pellets. These pellets are then melted into composite lumber or newer bags. 

Composite lumbers are plastic pellets mixed with wood scraps. Companies like Advanced Environmental Recycling Technologies Inc. and Trex melt and fuse wood scraps with pellets to make outdoor decking products. 

Again, used plastic bags are melted in recycling centers and turned into new bags. Recycling used plastic bags into new ones is much more environment friendly than producing them from scratch.

Some plastic bags end up in the field of NanoTechnology. Scientists are creating carbon nanotube membranes from plastic bags. Their new invention can be used for biomedical innovations and energy storage.

So, you can rest assured that you being environmentally conscious and recycling plastic bags is paying off. Because, along with supermarkets, there is a whole industry for recycling your plastic bags.

Why You Should Not Put Plastic Bags in Regular Recycle Bins?

You should never put your plastic bags in regular recycle bins or your curbside recycle bins. There is a strong reason why curbside recycle bins do not accept plastic bags. 

Plastic bags are either made of high density (HDPE #2) or low-density polyethylene (LDPE #4). Because of their structure, both of these types of plastic are difficult to recycle. 

Since plastic bags are flexible and lightweight, they often end up tangled with other items. Curbside recycling bins contain large plastic products, cans, bottles, and papers. If you put plastic bags inside these bins, the larger items will get entangled with them.

Plastic bags can get entangled or snagged in the machines that separate other recyclables in the curbside bins. If that happens the machines can get damaged as the plastic bags may get jammed in them.

Another scenario is that workers will remove the plastic bags from the machines and throw them out. Hence, in the end, these plastic bags end up in landfills or worse, in the ocean. 

So, plastic bags in curbside bins are not only slowing down the recycling process but also harming the environment. You should not put soft, lightweight plastic like plastic bags or anything that can wrap around your finger in the curbside recycling bins.

What Else Can You Put in the Supermarket Recycle Bins? 

Other than your regular plastic bags, you can put plastic films in supermarket recycling bins. All flexible, lightweight, and soft plastics are plastic films. Plastic bags are also types of plastic films.

In the case of most supermarkets, you will spot the collection bins at the entrance. If you have stored a bunch of plastic films at home for recycling, you can drop them off at your supermarket’s collection bins.

As long as your soft plastics are dry and clean, you can drop them off at your local supermarket's bag collection bins. Whether it is a Ziploc bag or bubble wrap, any sort of lightweight plastic packaging can be dropped into a supermarket's recycling bin.

Here is a list of plastic film items that you can put in the supermarket recycle bin except for plastic bags. 

  • Bubble wraps or Saran wraps
  • Plastic food packaging bags 
  • Plastic Take-out bags 
  • Bread and produce bags
  • Popped air pillows
  • Wood Pellet bags
  • Plastic liners or cereal boxes
  • Ziploc bags
  • Plastic wrappings of newspaper
  • Shipping packaging, envelopes, or case wraps
  • Dry cleaning bags 
  • Ice bags 

What to Do if Your Supermarket Does Not Recycle Plastic Bags?

Unfortunately, not all supermarkets accept plastic bags for recycling. If you do not have a supermarket or grocery store that recycles plastic bags in your locality, don’t be disheartened. There are a number of ways you can recycle, repurpose, and reuse plastic bags in your home. 

First, you should clean, prepare, and store all the plastic bags in your home. You can fold and store around 50 to 100 plastic bags in a garbage bag. Then you can either donate them to a local thrift store or Goodwill. 

If your local supermarket does not offer recycling bins for plastic bags, you can encourage the store owner or manager to start recycling. You can also petition for all grocery stores and supermarkets in your area to start recycling plastic bags. 

Now, if you want to reuse your plastic bags, you can use them to cover the trash cans in your bathroom or around your home. Another way you can use a plastic bag as a packaging material for storing Christmas ornaments or paint brushes. 

You can use your plastic grocery bags to store leftover food in the refrigerator. Although it will not keep your food fresh for long, you can still wrap it around the food and store it for a while.   

Another way you can reuse your plastic bags is by breading chicken in them. Place one bag inside another grocery bag. Then add bread crumbs, seasoning, and chicken inside the bag, shake well, and voila! You have a well-coated chicken ready for deep frying. 

You can repurpose plastic bags by turning them into disposable spoon rest. You can also create floral frogs for decoration out of your plastic bags. 

Does Walmart or Target Recycle Plastic Bags?

Although curbside recycle bins, local grocery stores, and many recycling centers do not accept plastic bags, Walmart and Target do. 

Recycling plastic bags are not only difficult to do but also inefficient. Recycling centers do not accept plastic bags because employees have to hand-sort and check plastic bags for left-over items like leftover food, receipts, or batteries. Again, plastic bags or soft plastics tend to damage the machines of recycling centers too. 

Most grocery stores, on the other hand, do not offer collection bins because they cannot make a profit even out of huge loads of plastic bags. Plus, they do not have the space for storing plastic bags along with other recyclables. 

Large supermarkets or retail chains like Walmart and Target have both space and time to recycle plastic bags. 

So, the reason why Walmart accepts plastic bags is that they can store and sell them to a company that does recycle plastic films. For example, Walmart sells their plastic bags in bulk to Georgia Pacific, which is a bulk recycler of plastic packaging.

Along with plastic bag collection bins, Target provides plastic bags made out of 40% recycled plastic material. The supermarket encourages its customers to forgo using other plastic bags. They offer a 5% discount to customers who use their reusable bags.    

Both Target and Walmart are involved with the Beyond the Bag initiative. The aim of this initiative is to find, develop, and implement alternatives for traditional plastic packaging.

Besides Target and Walmart, there are other large supermarkets that provide plastic bag collection bins. Some of them are listed below,

  • Safeway
  • Kroger
  • Home Depot 
  • Kohl’s
  • Whole Foods
  • Food Lion

It’s great to see that more and more companies are taking steps to protect the environment. Plastic has been a serious challenge in fighting pollution for decades. It’s not uncommon to hear about plastic being stuck in the stomach of animals and killing them. We are not the sole owners of this big chunk of rock we call our home. We share it with so many other living creatures who depend on us being responsible fellow earthlings.

I hope my article was informative enough to help you recycle your plastic bags and encourage you to take another step forward to saving our planet. So, do your part in saving mother earth and recycle.

Also, if your local stores, shops, supermarkets etc. don’t participate, kindly let them know. Thanks for reading till the end. Have a great day. 

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About the Grocery Store Academy
The Grocery Store Academy is a blog about everything that has to do with grocery stores. This is your #1 spot to find the right information for your needs.
About the Author
Ferdi Vol has worked several years in a grocery store and has a passion for good food. He's happy to share his passion with you!
About Ferdi Vol
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