How Do Supermarkets Recycle Plastic Bags?


Even if you typically use reusable grocery bags, chances are you have more than a few plastic grocery bags lying around. I know I occasionally drop mine off at the grocery store’s plastic bag recycling bin, but how do supermarkets recycle plastic bags?

I decided to do some research, and this is what I found out:

Many supermarkets recycle plastic bags, along with other plastic film items. These transferred from the collection bins to recycling centers, where these are converted into outdoor decking and rails, park benches, picnic tables, new bags, and much more. However, plastic bags must not be put in curbside recycling bins.

But that’s not all there is to know about how grocery stores recycle plastic bags!

There are specific ways and procedures followed for this. Besides, you might also be interested in knowing what other materials can and cannot be recycled. I will explain it all in this article.

Just keep reading!

Do grocery stores really recycle bags?

Yes. Grocery stores that place collection bins for plastic bags do recycle them. They, in turn, pass them on to recycling companies who those bags, and other plastic films, into outdoor decking and railing, park benches, and picnic tables.

If you’ve done any amount of grocery shopping, you’ve probably seen the collection bins outside for plastic bags. You may have even put some bags in those collection bins.

But not all grocery stores have those bins, and you can’t put them with your regular recyclables.

So it is natural to wonder if it’s a gimmick or a feel-good tactic to justify the store using plastic bags (which more and more stores and cities are baning). But yes, stores really do turn them into recycling companies that reuse the bags.

If your store doesn’t have those bins, and you have enough bathroom trash bags to last you a lifetime, there are still plenty of things you can do with them.

Here are some of the top home uses for leftover plastic bags if you aren’t able to recycle yours:

1. Leftovers – Use a clean, dry bag to wrap up leftovers in the fridge, especially if it doesn’t actually touch the food. Put your leftover veggies inside the bag and tie a knot.

It won’t keep your food fresh for a week, but if you’re going to eat them the next day, it’s perfect.

Do you have half an onion or cucumber, still in its peel that needs to be stored? Use a plastic grocery bag. You’re going to throw away the outer layer of the food anyway.

2. Breading chicken –  Put a grocery bag inside another one, add in your breading and seasonings—Drop-in your chicken and shake. Once your chicken is coated, ball up the bag and the leftover breading and discard. No dishes to wash, no expensive zip-top bag to toss.

3. Other cool uses – You can also use them as a:

  • Disposable spoon rest
  • Christmas ornament storage
  • floral frog
  • Packing material
  • Storing paint brushes

These are just a few uses for plastic grocery bags. You can even donate them to your local Goodwill or other thrift stores.

How do they recycle plastic grocery bags?

The plastic grocery bags collected by grocery stores are first cleaned to get rid of any food particles. These are then transported to a recycling center, where they mix plastic film together with wood pulp and heat the mixture up until it melds together.

These plastics are recycled into decking and railing products.

Anything you recycle must be clean and completely dry. If your bags and other plastic film items are not clean of food residue, they can contaminate the entire batch. Which means it won’t be recycled and will end up in the landfill.

Plastic grocery bags, bread bags, produce bags, and other plastic film items can all be placed in the grocery store’s recycle bin.

Don’t put them in your curbside bin. Plastic grocery bags can get tangled in the machines. Workers will get them off, and then throw them in the trash.

Trex, the world’s largest manufacturer of wood-alternative decking products, picks up the bags from these locations all around the country. 

That’s it. Take your plastic film materials to your local grocery store. Trex will pick them up and turn them into decking.

That’s pretty neat!

Can bubble wrap or Saran wrap be recycled with plastic bags?

Yes. Bubble wrap or Saran wrap can be recycled with plastic bags. All plastic bags are considered plastic film. They are soft, flexible polyethylene packaging. As long as it’s clean and dry, bubble wrap and plastic wrap can be dropped in the plastic bag bin.

But those aren’t the only things you can put in those bins!

Here are a few other things you can put in the plastic bag bins at the grocery store:

  • Bread bags
  • Case overwrap
  • Dry cleaning bags
  • Newspaper sleeves
  • Ice bags
  • Wood pellet bags
  • Ziploc and other resealable bags

You cannot, however, put these plastic film items in your curbside recycling.

When you put these items in the curbside bin, they can get tangled in the recycling equipment. As a result, workers have to stop the machines to cut out the bags. Then they go straight to the landfill.

Another thing you can’t put in your curbside bin is aseptic containers.

This is the kind of packaging used for things like juice boxes, broths, soups, tomatoes, and even wine. The cartons are made of layered paper, aluminum foil, and plastic. They can be recycled in many cities, but not all cities.

Take a look at this recent article to read more about aseptic containers and how to recycle them.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

What are the facts about recycling plastic bags?

Here are some interesting facts about recycling plastic bags. First, apart from plastic bags, you can also recycle dry cleaning and food storage bags. Second, they need to be clean and dry during the recycling process. And third, they can be converted to decks, containers, new bags, and more.

Plastic film, unlike other plastic items, cannot be placed in your curbside recycling bin. Instead, it must be taken to a drop-off location. Grocery stores and other retail stores will usually have bins for collecting bags for recycling.

You can recycle more than just plastic bags!

You can recycle dry cleaning bags, produce bags, the wrap-around paper towels, toilet paper, and diapers. You can recycle newspaper bags and food storage bags, too! Just make sure it’s clean and dry and free from food residue.

There are more than 18,000 collection sites across the U.S. and Canada.

That means that even though you may not be able to put plastic bags in your curbside bin, it’s still easy and convenient to recycle plastic bags!

Just take them with you the next time you head out to the grocery store.

Plastic film can get new life as all sorts of things! Plastic bags can not only become composite lumber for decks, benches, and playground sets. It can also be processed into small pellets, which can later be made into new bags, pallets, containers, crates, and even pipes. source

Does Target or Walmart recycle plastic bags?

Yes! Both Target and Walmart recycle plastic bags and are also a part of the Beyond the Bag Initiative. In fact, Target takes it a step further by using plastic shopping bags that are made up of 40% recycled plastic. And even offers and additional 5-cent discount for customers using reusable bags.

Many more supermarkets and retail stores also recycle plastic bags. Here are just a few of the other stores that collect plastic bags for recycling:

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

They also have in-store kiosks for customers to recycle their bags.

To encourage people to reduce their use of plastic bags altogether, Target provides a 5-cent discount for each reusable bag customers use at checkout, too.

Walmart, Target, and CVS are all members of the Beyond the Bag Initiative, too. The initiative aims to identify, test, and implement viable alternatives to the traditional plastic bag. 

If your small local grocery store doesn’t recycle grocery bags, you may have to take your bags to a larger supermarket. You could even reach out to the manager or store owner to encourage them to participate in recycling plastic bags.

But wait? What’s the difference between a grocery store and a supermarket?

True, the terms are used interchangeably, but there are a few differences. Grocery stores are smaller and more specialized. Supermarkets will have lots of choices, in-house butchers, and fresh seafood.

To read more about the differences between grocery stores and supermarkets, just read this recent article.

Just click the link to read it on my site.

Did I answer everything you wanted to know about how do supermarkets recycle plastic bags?

In this article, I talked about whether supermarkets actually recycle plastic bags.

And also that these plastic bags are sent to recycling centers like that of Trix, for converting them into other usable material. 

I talked about whether saran wrap or bubble wrap can be recycled with plastic bags. And I also mentioned that Walmart, Target, and many other grocery stores too recycle plastic bags. I even gave some fun facts about recycling plastic bags.

Are you going to start taking your bags to be recycled?

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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